San Francisco's World Famous Cable Cars

Streetcar.org San Francisco Market Street Railway Museum
No.1

Powell Street Railway Company, 1888-1893

Built 1973 and restored 2014 by Muni shops

This cable car is considered the flagship of the Powell Street fleet, proudly wearing the original paint design Powell cable cars wore when the line first opened in 1888.

The Powell Street cable car lines were originally built by the Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company, which started construction in 1887 after winning several franchises for cable car operation as well as for a steam train that ran all the way to the Pacific shore at the Cliff House. This company elected to mark its Powell Street cable cars with the name “Powell Street Railway Co.” instead of the parent company’s name, though they did put “Ferries & Cliff House Railway” on the Washington and Mason powerhouse and carbarn (which is still signed that way).

In 1973, for the centennial of the world’s first cable car line (on San Francisco’s Clay Street), Muni constructed a “new” Powell cable car using the roof and seats from the first No. 506. This “Centennial Car” received the number 1. (At the same time, the other Powell cable cars were renumbered, dropping the first digit (5) to restore the original 1888 numbering system).

No. 1 was painted in an approximation of the original maroon and light blue livery of the Powell Street Railway Co. It also received conical caps on the roof, a detail that had long ago vanished from cable cars but had originally served as vents for interior kerosene lamps.

This ornate livery only lasted on Powell Street cable cars until around 1893, when a new owner repainted them. However, this Centennial cable car caused such positive comments that when Muni rebuilt the cable car system in 1982-84, it repainted all but one of the other Powell Street cable cars from the green and cream livery they had worn since the late 1940s into a simplified version of this maroon and light blue design.

Gradually, some of the special detail on Powell No. 1 disappeared during repairs and repainting. For example, “Powell Street Railway Company” disappeared from the side rocker panels, replaced by standard Muni decals. The unique roof signs on the ends of the car also vanished.  But with historic research and decals supplied by Market Street Railway Company, Muni’s craft workers fully rebuilt and restored Powell No. 1 to the original paint scheme of the Powell Street Railway Company when it opened in 1888, with the car reentering service on November 14, 2014.

Befitting its flagship status, this is the only Powell car on which exterior advertising is not permitted. It carries a plaque honoring Friedel Klussmann, “the cable car lady,” whose civic activism saved the Powell Street cable cars from oblivion in 1947.

Powell Street Cable Car Specifications

Number of Cars
28 on roster (Maximum of 19 in service at one time)

Capacity
60 (29 seated + 31 standing)

Weight
15,500 lb (7,030 kg)

Length
27′ 6″ (8.4 m)

Height
10′ 5″ (3.2 m)

Width
8′ 0″ (2.4 m)

Track Gauge
3′ 6″ (1.07 m)

Round Trip Route Length
Powell-Mason line: 3.2 mi (5.15 km)
Powell-Hyde line: 4.3 mi (6.92 km)

Cable Speed
9.5 mph (15.3 km/h)

Cable Lengths
Powell: 9,300 ft (2,835 m)
Mason: 10,300 ft (3,140 m)
Hyde: 16,000 ft (4875 m)

Cable Motive Power
510-horsepower electric motor driving four cable winders at powerhouse

Powerhouse and Carbarn
Washington and Mason Streets

Built 1887 by Ferries & Cliff House Railway

Rebuilt 1906 by United Railroads

Rebuilt 1982-84 by San Francisco Municipal Railway

Steepest Grades on Powell Lines
Powell: 17% between Bush & Pine
Mason: 17% between Union & Green
Hyde: 21% between Bay & Chestnut