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Smoke Stops Cable Cars

UPDATE: The cable cars will remain out of service at least through Sunday, November 18.

The deteriorating air quality around San Francisco Bay due to the smoke from the Camp Fire to the north has claimed another victim: the city’s cable cars.

Muni pulled all the cable cars into the barn this afternoon (November 15) and replaced them with buses until air quality improves. Forecasters say that could be another week. In a sign of how serious Bay Area residents have been affected, store after store has sold out of air purifiers and N95 face masks, recommended for those who must venture outdoors. The Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Street closed on Thursday for the same reason.

On one level, it may seem counter-intuitive to some to replace zero emission vehicles (the cable cars are powered by central electric motors using the city’s own hydroelectricity) with diesel buses, especially when an air inversion is trapping the smoke and locally generated emissions close to the ground. But cable car crews and passengers alike are essentially outdoors, where at least the buses can turn on their air conditioning and get some air filtration that way.

We join everyone in the Bay Area in our condolences to all those who have lost their homes — and lives — in this worst wildfire in California history, and in our concerns for all those in other parts of the state, such as Sacramento, where the air quality right now is even worse than it is here.

(The photo above comes from MSR Member Traci Cox, capturing the smoky background behind California Cable Car 56 looking west up Nob Hill from Drumm Street yesterday. It’s worse today.

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“Full of Wonders”

The Chronicle‘s great columnist, Carl Nolte, spun a warm story today about October in the City — our most beautiful month. We’re illustrating it, fittingly, with this shot taken this afternoon of two orange Milan trams passing at Fifth and Market, with the venerable Chronicle tower in the background. Here’s some of what Carl feels is great about the City:

Up close, the city is still something special, even on battered Market Street. Back from an errand last week, I hopped on one of those old Milan streetcars, painted pumpkin orange, running the F line. As we rumbled up Market, I watched a small kid watching the operator run the old-fashioned controls, toot the horn and ring the bell. The kid reminded me of me, back when I was little and a streetcar ride was full of wonders.

I think our members and friends agree with Carl that a streetcar ride is still full of wonders!  By the way, shortly after we snapped the photo of the two orange Milans, two green ones (or as our friend Peter Ehrlich calls them, “Mint Milanos”) passed at the same intersection, making four Milan trams on the line today, a high number for a weekend. Thanks to Muni’s shops for getting the Milan car count back up. As Carl noted, these cars have a real following.

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John Haley Leaves Muni

UPDATED, OCTOBER 27

John Haley, Director of Transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (de facto equivalent to general manager of Muni), left the agency October 26, according to this story by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez in the San Francisco Examiner.

Haley had been in the position for eight years, a long tenure by transit industry standards. His departure was announced by SFMTA as a retirement, though the article states that he was under pressure to leave following a series of allegations detailed in the Examiner story.

These allegations include a lawsuit from a female employee of groping and sexual harassment, which was reported by the Examiner last month. In the wake of that article, other SFMTA employees came forward to claim ill treatment by Haley and by several other male employees of SFMTA. Mayor London Breed responded quickly, appointing a veteran human resources director to investigate such accusations.

Today’s Examiner article reports:

More than 60 women from across every division of the 6,000 employee agency banded together to deliver anonymously written testimony to SFMTA leadership on October 22, urging them to quickly and thoroughly address harassment allegations.

“We represent women from various divisions and job classifications throughout the agency” reads the introduction letter to the women’s testimonies. “Many of us are scared to speak up. We all want you to engage us. We all want change.”

Such acts of harassment, if true, are inexcusable and should not be tolerated in any environment. In our own interactions with Haley over the past eight years, we did not witness acts of sexual harassment or gender or racial discrimination by him. However, we did become aware, through repeated tips from a broad array of Muni employees, that Haley held strongly negative views of the historic streetcars and cable cars, as well as Market Street Railway as an organization and its leadership specifically.

We were told by numerous inside sources that Haley repeatedly bad-mouthed our organization and the streetcars in front of staff and in internal meetings. We believe this led to a climate of fear and poor morale among many staff members involved in maintaining the historic fleet.

We attribute the progress that has been made during this period, including the inauguration of the E-Embarcadero streetcar line and progress in streetcar restoration and service improvements, to the dedication of numerous SFMTA employees who did not echo Haley’s negativity. We also believe the progress that has been made can be attributed to the strong support for the streetcars and cable cars by SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, with whom we have had a consistent and positive relationship, and to his Board of Directors, which have long supported Muni’s historic transit operation.

No interim replacement for Haley had been named at the time of this posting.

We will have more on this situation in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in early December.

 

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Iron Monster Trucked to Fix Trucks

1914 Muni Car 162, which seemed on the cusp of returning to service after accident repairs that took more than four years, is starting a new round of repairs — this time on the trucks underneath the car.

Friday morning (October 19), the irreplaceable Muni original, was trucked from Muni Metro East in Dogpatch across town to the heavy overhaul shops at Green Division, next to Balboa Park BART. It’s shown above squeezing past a tree into the Green Division yard, and below in the shop. (Thanks to Barry Chown on our Facebook group for the lower shot.)

The car had returned home on April 23 following repairs from a 2014 accident. The repair work, which only included the body, were beautifully performed by CG, Inc. of Long Beach, but the car was improperly lifted by its trucks (wheel sets) for the return trip and the bottom connecting bars of the trucks were bent. (The October 19 cross-town moved used a roll-on, roll-off trailer, so it didn’t need to be lifted.

Though the bent members of the trucks were successfully straightened, the very detailed inspection of the trucks that accompanied the repair convinced Muni that it is necessary to completely rebuild the 104-year old trucks. That job is starting now, and will be performed in-house.

Market Street Railway is extremely disappointed with the way the streetcar was handled on its return trip from the vendor. Muni has committed to expedite the truck rebuilding and to do a thorough job. The project will be an early challenge for Muni’s new acting head of rail maintenance, Randy Catanach, who recently took over from Lee Summerlott, who retired.

We haven’t been given an estimated date for the completion of the work, but we will let you know. We look forward to getting this truly historic streetcar, which started its Muni career on long-gone rail lines like the B-Geary and F-Stockton, back on the street carrying a new generation of passengers on the E-Embarcadero and F-Market.

 

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Pacific Electric PCC 1061 Headed Back to Muni

Rolling through Ames, Iowa today on the back of a trailer, one of our watchful members, Mike Joynt, spotted newly rebuilt PCC 1061, painted to honor Pacific Electric, on its way back to San Francisco following rebuilding by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. Mike wasn’t able to snap a photo, but here’s one of the car body emerging from Brookville’s paint shop a couple of months ago before its regular trucks were installed and the finishing touches applied. (Thanks to Jack Demnyan for the photo.)

Pacific Electric was the mighty Southern California interurban and electric freight railway involved with the even mightier Southern Pacific Railroad. P-E even painted its small fleet of double-end PCCs to evoke S-P’s red and orange “Daylight” passenger trainsets. The restored 1061 has a more accurate orange — Daylight Orange, actually — that provides more contrast with the red than the color did on the original restoration, performed in the early 1990s. That extra contrast led one member, who saw this photo in Inside Track, to complain that the paint scheme is “wrong” because there’s “too much orange” above the windows. In fact, the paint design is identical to what has been on the car since the early 1990s. The relative lack of contrast between the body red and the trim red-orange meant that this member didn’t notice anything “wrong” for 25 years. You can see the original this great shot by Rich Panse.

In fairness, this paint scheme in particular is tough to replicate because P-E’s PCCs were unique, double-ended with front and center doors and no standee windows.  The side windows were much taller instead, leaving little room between the top of the windows and the main roof as shown below.

We’ll post photos of the finished car when it arrives in San Francisco early next week.

 

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What a Weekend!

As you can see on our recap at the top of the main page, Muni Heritage Weekend was a real humdinger. What was especially great was the large number of families that came out to enjoy the vintage vehicles. SFMTA had some specific events to attract kids including cable car bell ringing practice with 10-time champion Carl Payne, design your own streetcar, and more.

But the vehicles themselves are what the families loved. Here are some photos that show it.

Thanks to everyone involved with this year’s Muni Heritage Weekend. We’ll have a list later, but for now, special thanks to the team that remade our website to bring the action to you: Jeremy Whiteman for the live webcam, which will become a permanent part of streetcar.org, Chris Arvin and Kat Siegal, who designed the new material as the first step of their improvements to our website, and the photographers who posted their shots on Instagram and on our website: SFMTA photographer Jeremy Menzies, plus volunteers Jeff Bennett, Jack Demnyan, Adolfo Echeverry, Katie Haverkamp, Steve Sousa, and Jeremy Whiteman. Thanks to all!

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Ride Hyde the Way it Used to Be!

From 1891 to 1954, double-end cable cars, almost identical to those on California Street, rambled from Market & O’Farrell streets through Union Square, the Tenderloin, and over Nob and Russian Hills to reach Hyde and Beach Streets near Aquatic Park. The City killed the inner part of that line and combined the outer part with one of the Powell Street cable lines to create the Powell-Hyde line in 1957.

Now as a special event for San Francisco history buffs and cable car fans, the last unaltered O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car will carry passengers down Hyde Street Saturday and Sunday mornings, September 8-9. It’s the first time the car has been in regular passenger service on Hyde Street in 64 years. Expert grip (and MSR Member) Val Lupiz will be at the controls. Val supplied the vintage photo above, taken at Chestnut and Hyde, probably in the early 1950s. The modern matching shot was taken on a VIP run by Frank Zepeda.

The special car, reacquired by Market Street Railway and restored by expert volunteers and Muni pros, will operate as follows as part of Muni Heritage Weekend:

  • Leaves Washington & Mason Streets at 10 a.m. sharp each day
  • Riders must queue on the north sidewalk on Washington, just west of Mason.
  • Regular $7 cable fare will be charged for the one-way trip to Hyde & Beach
  • When car lays over at Hyde & Beach, riders will have to get off and rebound in a separate queue at the boarding area. The $7 fare will be charged again.
  • Car 42 will then depart Hyde and Beach operating via Hyde, Washington, Powell, Jackson, reverse direction on Hyde then on Hyde to California, California to Van Ness, reverse car again, then California to Drumm.
  • At that point, Car 42 will begin regular service on the California line until 5 p.m. both days.

This opportunity may not come around again. What a perfect way to start Heritage Weekend!

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Heritage Weekend Has Later Start Time This Year  

Because of unforeseen events, Muni Heritage Weekend events will start later and finish later on September 8-9 this year. But there are still going to be very special happenings for transportation fans of all ages.

A climate change protest will close Market Street late morning of Saturday, September 8 and a footrace sponsored by the Giants will close traffic lanes on The Embarcadero Sunday morning. Both these events were scheduled after our dates were locked down and there’s really nothing we can do about it.

At the epicenter of Muni Heritage Weekend, our San Francisco Railway Museum, events will get underway Saturday at 12 Noon with a cable car bell-ringing demonstration by all-time champ Carl Payne. Carl will also offer instruction to kids of all ages, who can take a turn on the bell of motorized cable car 62 (the first motorized cable car ever created, by the way), which will be on display in the plaza across the F-line tracks from our museum.

At 1 pm, or possibly slightly earlier, vintage streetcars and buses will begin carrying passengers.
The following streetcars will offer free rides all afternoon between our Museum and Pier 39, along The Embarcadero (last runs of the day leave the museum at 5 pm):


Additionally, the following vintage streetcars will be in regular service on either the E or F lines, at regular Muni fares.

The following vintage buses will offer FREE rides all afternoon (last runs of the day leave the museum at 5 pm):

Trolley coaches – operating on the old 20-line via Columbus Ave. to Washington Square:

Motor coaches – operating to Levi’s Plaza via part of the 82x-line:

  • 1938 White Motor Co. Coach 042
  • 1956 Mack Coach 2230 (debuting this year, if a water pump issue can be resolved)
  • 1970 GMC “Fishbowl” Coach 3287
  • 1975 AM General Coach 4154
  • One or two newer vintage coaches to be finalized

There will be kids’ activities both afternoons on the plaza across from the museum and a special sale of memorabilia at our San Francisco Railway Museum. It’s a great time to pick up your 2019 Museums in Motion calendar and other great items. Remember, MSR Members get 10% off all merchandise. Also, Heritage weekend only, SFMTA employees get 10% off all merchandise if they show their badge.

On the cable car front, we are finalizing some very special plans for O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car 42, which we reacquired for Muni and cosmetically restored. We’ll announce those plans separately on our website, www.streetcar.org, but beyond those, Car 42 will be offering regular service on the California Street cable car line in the afternoons, both Saturday and Sunday.

Also, both days at 5 pm, I will be giving my talk, “Coming to Town” about the ways across the Bay from 1875 to today, at our museum. This accompanies the new exhibit of that name that has just opened, and features some rare historic photos.

We hope you can join us for Heritage Weekend this year.

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Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864

Yep, you read that right. Before Market Street had electric streetcars, cable cars, or horse-powered streetcars, it had a STEAM-powered streetcar. In fact, this was the first rail transit on Market Street, started up in 1860.

This photo, which we had not seen before, just surfaced on a Facebook group, without a source reference. It shows Market Street during the Civil War (the date given is 1864, and that seems at least very close). We’re looking west, toward Twin Peaks. The downtown hadn’t been built out that far in 1864; you can see the empty lands and sand hills in the distance. We’re in between the numbered streets on the south side, so that intersection on the north side is most likely O’Farrell and Dupont (later Grant Avenue — its namesake was still earning his right to have an SF street named after him at this time).

Note the giant American flag, reminding one and all that California was a Union state. Also note the boardwalks for pedestrians, the streetamps that probably used kerosene (piped gas was still in the future, along with electricity), and the lack of traffic.

And, wait, wait, in the distance, that rectangular object in the middle of the street is — a streetcar powered by steam.

It and three others belonged to the Market Street Railroad, first of several companies to incorporate the city’s main street into its name. They carried both passengers and baggage. The line opened on July 4, 1860, operating from Third and Market Streets to 16thand Valencia Streets. This was an unusual application of steam power, and expensive to operate. It was extended eastward to the foot of Market and south on Valencia to 26thStreet, but proved a financial failure, forcing conversion to horsecar operation in 1867. Yet this first line demonstrated the importance of fixed-route transit in developing neighborhoods.

As it turned out, steam-powered transit got a second life on Market from 1880-1888, when a steam dummy and trailer covered the western end of the street from Valencia to Castro, until cable car service was extended. More conventional steam passenger trains carried people from the geographic center of the city to the Cliff House and Ocean Beach later on.

Here’s a closer-up photo of the first steam-powered streetcar, taken near the opening in 1860. It’s the only one we knew to exist, until now.

 

We don’t have a steam train to ride on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 8 and 9, but there’ll be some great electric streetcars, cable cars, and buses. Come to our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street, between 11 am and 5 pm (new times–we’ll explain shortly).

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Incredible Film: Cable Cars on Pacific Ave., 1929

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. A couple of months ago, we got a call asking whether we recognized the location of a film. We did — Pacific Avenue. We had never seen motion pictures of that line, which closed in 1929. Now, the video has been posted on YouTube, with additional information on the provenance of the film.

It was professionally shot, with sound, by a Movietone Newsreel crew, which spent several days filming the line between Larkin and Divisadero, including the closing parade in November 1929. This was the last line still operating grip and trailer cars, and the crew was particularly intrigued by how they reversed direction at the end of the line. We were too.  Amazing to watch the ballet between the gripman and conductor as they swap the dummy and trailer to reverse direction. No layover, either!

The Pacific Avenue cable line was a real artifact. The Sutter Street Railroad ran several lines. This one, built in 1890-91 in an unusual wide (5-foot) gauge, ran up Ninth Street and Larkin to Pacific Avenue, then westward to Divisadero Street. After the 1906 earthquake, most of the line was converted to electric streetcar operation. But the Pacific Avenue portion was still cable operated, in part because of the grades, and in part because of the affluent neighborhood’s objections to “unsightly” overhead wires. United Railroads took over the line in 1902, then it passed to our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, in 1921. It was a big money loser for them, since it ran mostly along residential blocks and didn’t serve any real shopping or employment destinations. Besides, for much of its length, the 3-Jackson streetcar, which went straight downtown, ran parallel and just a block south. Market Street Railway finally won the right to abandon it and the farewell party is captured here.

The No. 46 grip car and No. 54 trailer car from this line are on display at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Joe Thompson’s Cable Car Guy website has the full history of this line, written by the incomparable Emiliano Echeverria and the late Walter Rice.

Some great scenes here. Love the two Pacific Heights matrons playing railfan, changing their seats to stay up front when the grip car reversed. The parade is priceless.

As always, we at Market Street Railway welcome your support in helping us preserve historic transit in San Francisco.

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