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Hail and Farewell, Mayor Ed Lee

In transit jargon, the trip to the carbarn after completing the day’s runs is the pull-in. A man who helped revitalize San Francisco’s transit system has unexpectedly — and very sadly — finished his runs, way too soon.

Mayor Edwin Lee died suddenly of a heart attack in the early hours of December 12, 2017. He was just 65 years old.

Pictured above on a boat tram at the opening of the E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line in 2015 with then-Supervisor Julie Christensen, we will always remember Mayor Lee for his delight with the historic streetcars. But he meant far more to the city’s transportation system than that.

As Mayor, Ed Lee put a team in place at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, parent of Muni, that dramatically improved the condition of the vehicle fleet, replacing hundreds of buses (both trolley coaches and motor coaches) and began the replacement of the light rail vehicle fleet. Led by SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin and Director of Transit John Haley, the LRV procurement and bus replacement were carried out in a fraction of the time that previous fleet replacements took.

He appointed strong bicycle advocates, disabled advocates, and transit advocates to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The Board’s strongest bicycle advocate, Cheryl Brinkman, is now the Board Chair.  These appointments are part of an important legacy.

 

And we also remember how Mayor Lee took delight in Muni’s centennial celebration in 2012, even repeating what his predecessor “Sunny Jim” Rolph had done a century before — personally take the controls of Muni’s very first streetcar (yes, the very same streetcar) to kick off the celebration.

Two bells, Mayor Lee. Rest in Peace.

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Snow in San Francisco 85 years ago today

Yep. It happened on December 11, 1932 — one of the few snowfalls in the city proper that actually stuck to the ground, if only for a little while. According to the site “California History,” The City recorded its coldest temperature ever, 27 degrees fahrenheit, on this day. This photo from Charlie Smallwood’s definitive history of the Market Street Railway, The White Front Cars of San Francisco, shows Car 206 on the 1-line at Sutro Division, 32nd and Clement Streets, during a 1932 snowfall. Thanks to Hans-Christian Kasper for sharing it to our Facebook group.

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Welcome Back, Cable Car 22!

The double-deuce hits the street Wednesday, November 29 after being out of service eight years!

UPDATE 11/29: Turns out the November 29 runs were for advanced testing…stand by for an announcement on passenger service.

Its failing frame and rotting wood were certainly entitled to take a few years off, for Car 22 (once 522) is one of the relatively few surviving original Ferries & Cliff House Railways Cars from 1887. It started on the vanished Sacramento-Clay line, but moved over to the Powell lines in 1906, after the original Powell fleet was destroyed, along with the Washington-Mason car barn, in the earthquake and fire.

One by one, most of the original 1887 cars eventually wore out, even after being rebuilt once before (in 22’s case, in 1956). Some were replaced by essentially completely new cable cars built by the Woods Carpentry Shop, with virtually nothing remaining of the original.
However, 22, along with Powell Cable Cars 17, 24, and 27, still retain significant parts of their original 1887 construction, when they were built by Mahony Brothers of San Francisco.  So this car is one of the oldest in the fleet.  (Most of the other “original” Powell cars date to 1893, and most of the Cal cars oriignally date to 1906-07.)

According to recently retired Cable Car maintenance supervisor Norbert Feyling, “All credit belongs to carpenter Mark Sobichevsky, who took on a massive rebuild that other people ran away from.” Norbert continues, “Big credit also goes to Bryant Cao, Keith and the other new carpenter hires for which this was a training ground, painters Danny Hicks and Richard Lee, Harry Stewart, John Malia and their machinists, engineer John Becker, and all the shop mechanics who completely replaced the trucks and running gear so she’ll drive as sweet as she looks. All done in house, by Muni personnel.”

We celebrate the return of Powell Cable Car 22 to the active fleet. Thanks to Russell Stanton of the Cable Car Division for posting this photo of 22 to our Facebook group.

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Thanksgiving 2017

This Thanksgiving we’re grateful for all the workers at SFMTA (Muni) who operate the historic streetcars and cable cars and keep them on the streets and looking good.

We’re grateful to the SFMTA Board of Directors and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin for their strong support of historic transit in San Francisco, and to those on their staff who share their commitment.

We’re especially grateful to our members and donors who make our advocacy possible.

And we’re grateful to be part of a dynamic evolving city that protects its past and integrates much of it into the present and the future.

One current example: this photo was taken at lunchtime the other day from the main dining room of the newly (and wonderfully) renovated Fisherman’s Grotto No. 9 on Taylor Street’s Restaurant Row at the Wharf. What was a tired (albeit historic) restaurant is fresh and new, but still displaying old-time Wharf tradition (along with a fabulous Crab Louis, by the way).

And the views! Golden Gate Bridge to the west and, oh yes, streetcars to the south, with the fishing fleet as a foreground object. The shot above was snapped with an iPhone, but we expect the ace volunteer photographers among our members to get some much better shots soon. Importantly to us, this shot symbolizes how vintage streetcars have become so integrated into the fabric of our city. Even as a detail in a photo, they just fit in — as they have done for 125 years in San Francisco.

And since food’s on our mind today, we’re grateful for many other traditional San Francisco restaurants that still deliver the goods: Sam’s Grill on Bush near Kearny, John’s Grill on Ellis (which Dashiell Hammett took the 20-line streetcar to reach), and Scoma’s at the Wharf. And don’t forget bars like the Buena Vista Cafe at the end of the Hyde cable.

Happy Thanksgiving, San Francisco!

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Perfect November Saturday on the Waterfront

On a picture-perfect November Saturday morning, we were at Aquatic Park shooting some photos for a forthcoming feature in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track, about an exciting updated vision for extending streetcar service to western Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Aquatic Park, Municipal Pier, and Fort Mason. (Not a Member?  Join now and get the scoop on this.)

Anyway, riding back on the F-line, we hopped off at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market for some shopping. Saw an E-line car coming up from Caltrain with a seated load — great to see ridership building there — and then some great sights on the F that we thought it would be fun to share here.

First, the newest PCC to return to service, Car 1062, honoring Pittsburgh Railways, getting instructions from the inspector at the Jones and Beach terminal, with a Milan tram on the F-line behind it, then double-end PCC 1007 on the E-line.

As soon as we get to the Ferry Building stop, what do we see but another PCC newly returned from its renovation by Brookville Equipment Company, Car 1059, now in its correct orange livery honoring Boston Elevated Railway. (Nice coincidence: Embarcadero Center in the background is owned by Boston Properties, our newest Business Benefactor Member!) The dirt on the roof reflects last week’s storm. Rain deposits carbon from the slide on the trolley pole onto the roofs of cars; it takes the crews a few days to get all the cars clean again.

 

We hear a gong and turn around and what should appear coming up the E-line tracks but the “brandest-newest” PCC to return from Brookville, Car 1063, honoring Baltimore Transit with that city’s original PCC livery of Alexandria Blue, orange, and gray. It has just started its 1,000-mile “burn-in” to check all its systems before entering passenger service.

Three newly refurbished PCCs to brighten an already spectacular day!

 

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Positively (Twenty-)Fourth Street

Okay, the headline reference is anachronistic, because this shot goes WAY back beyond Dylan. So evocative, though, we couldn’t resist the reference.

Few are still around who remember streetcars on 24th Street, now the cultural center of the City’s Latino community and known to many as Calle 24. But here we are in 1938 (based on the streetcar and the automobile license plate) looking east on 24th at York Street, staring at a 35-Howard line streetcar. It has just descended the very steep hill on 24th from its terminal at Rhode Island Street on Potrero Hill, crossed the Muni’s H-line tracks on Potrero Avenue, and is bound for South Van Ness, where it will turn right and continue on that street and Howard to reach the south terminal at the Ferry Building.

On the corner to the right, we see the St. Francis ice cream and candy store — still there! — and beyond it, the Roosevelt theater marquee. The Roosevelt wasn’t a tribute to a president, it was opened by a Dutchman named Roosevelt in 1922, who also owned other businesses on the block, including the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, which reopened early this year after a hiatus.

And by the way, this is not just any old streetcar. This is one of five “Rail Sedans” that Muni’s then-competitor (and our namesake) Market Street Railway bought secondhand from the East St. Louis & Suburban Railway in 1936. These cars, built in 1927 by St. Louis Car Company, were far more modern looking than anything else Market Street Railway ever owned. They were purchased when the company began converting lightly-ridden lines to be served by single-operator cars that saved labor costs. According to the definitive history of the Market Street Railway, The White Front Cars of San Francisco by Charles Smallwood, the five rail sedans spent their entire San Francisco career exclusively on the 35-line. The company felt if they spread these cars around to other routes, riders on those routes might demand more of them, and there were no more available.

The mandatory “Eclipse Fender” on the front of these cars in San Francisco detracted from the even more modern look they enjoyed in their original home, equipped with chromed spring bumpers (see photo from Smallwood’s book below).

These Rail Sedans only lasted three years in service in San Francisco, sent to the sidelines when the courts declared the single-operator arrangement illegal. Within two years, Market Street Railway had given up its franchise for the 35-Howard. Muni converted the portions on Howard and South Van Ness to its first trolley coach line (the R, later the 41) in 1941. The 24th Street portion later became Muni’s 35-line bus, and is now the 48-line bus. Sadly, all the rail sedans were scrapped in 1941. They’d sure look great in service on the F and E lines today!

This great photo comes to us from the Facebook Group San Francisco Remembered, where it was just made the group photo. Thanks for letting us share.

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Just Visiting

We stopped by Cameron Beach Yard this afternoon and what should be peeking out but the first of Muni’s new light rail vehicles, built by Siemens. Car 2001 was nestled in between 1914 Muni Car 130 (not visible, at right) and (visible to the left) 1952 Brussels, Belgium PCC 737.

There are Bredas under the canopy as well, which Market Street Railway fought for ten years to have built to protect the most vulnerable historic streetcars, which were then based at what was known as Geneva Division, built for some of the city’s first streetcars in 1900 and a Muni property since 1944. It was renamed for Cameron Beach, a board member of Muni’s parent, SFMTA shortly after his untimely death in 2011. (Cam had previously been vice chair of our nonprofit’s board.

But shortly after the facility was dedicated to Cam, the historic streetcars started leaving, as F-line (and later E-line) operations, maintenance, and storage were shifted across town to Muni Metro East. The reason given: rail replacement in the big LRV division across the street, Green Division, meant the tracks at Cameron Beach were needed for LRVs.

But that job, well behind schedule, is finally approaching the finish line, and we’re told the historic streetcars will return to Cameron Beach as soon as February 2018 — just three months for now.

And that Siemens LRV — just visiting during its testing operations, but we know that if Cam Beach himself had seen it today, he would’ve broken into his famous ear-to-ear grin and said, “Oh, YEAH!”  Because Cam loved effective rail transit, old cars or new!

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Van Ness and McAllister, Nov. 1, 1917

This photo from the SFMTA Archive was taken exactly 100 years before the date of this post, on November 1, 1917. No streetcars in the picture, but we do see important infrastructure: the poles that hold up the wires that bring power to the streetcars.

We’re at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street, looking northeast across Van Ness. City Hall, then new, sits on the southeast corner of this intersection. Across Van Ness, we see an apartment building with ground floor retail that’s still there. If you click the photo, at left center at the corner of Redwood Street, you can see a shop offering vulcanizing services (presumably for tires). Van Ness is so wide, and so devoid of traffic, that automobile drivers felt free to park perpendicular to the curb — or parallel, whatever they wanted.

On the left, we see a metal pole with a metal cap belonging to the privately owned United Railroads, used for the 5-McAllister line that ran essentially the same route as today’s 5-Fulton bus.

On the right, a concrete pole belonging to the Municipal Railway, then less than five years old. Van Ness, one of the city’s widest streets, hosted the H-Potrero streetcar line on this stretch of the street (replaced in 1949 by the 47-Potrero trolley bus).

Muni generally preferred concrete poles for their streetcar lines. They used streetcar rail for reinforcement. The poles on Van Ness were installed in 1914 without streetlights. Those were bolted on in the late 1930s, as Van Ness was readied for an increased flow of automobile traffic from the new Golden Gate Bridge.

Bringing the light pole story up to date, the metal poles came to Muni with the rest of the private company’s infrastructure in 1944, when the city took over. The metal poles on lines that were converted to trolley coach, many are still in use.

As for the concrete poles, they have badly deteriorated, as would be expected after a century. In planning the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, SFMTA (Muni’s parent) proposed replacing the old concrete poles with modernistic metal ones. They felt this was necessary not only because many of the old poles were structurally unsound, but also because the poles needed to be taller because the trolley bus wires were being moved from the curb lanes to the center right-of-way.

But at the last minute, after repeated public outreach and hearings, a group of influential people in Pacific Heights demanded that the old poles and lights be retained or replicated. After negotiations, they settled for getting rid of the modern lights and substituting some old-timey looking lights that have no history in San Francisco.

But hey, those concrete poles lasted a century. The one is this picture is still there (although the metal pole on McAllister has been replaced, probably when the State of California was built a quarter-century ago on the spot occupied by the bar in the photo offering Golden State Beer for a nickel).

And oh, by the way, traffic on much of Van Ness was diverted today to clear two lanes for sewer replacement, one component of the BRT project.

Thanks as always to SFMTA for preserving the photographic history of transit in San Francisco.

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Baltimore Blues

Of all the comments we’ve received about Muni’s restored PCC streetcars over the past 30 years, nothing comes close to carping about colors. “You’re half a shade off there, you know.” “I can’t believe you didn’t get that green right.” And on and on and on.

Which is why you can call this a pre-emptive post. All you Baltimore Transit experts who look at the photos in this post with your fingers twitching to launch a tirade, step back from the keyboard and read the rest of the post first.

In a lifetime of photography, I (MSR President Rick Laubscher) have never seen such an odd color shift from the actual as I got today in photographing newly restored PCC 1063, honoring Baltimore Transit, which arrived at Muni Metro East first thing this morning.

When i first laid eyes on the 1063, just inside the shop, the color seemed to be accurate — a blue-green some call teal, some cyan. But when I photographed it, the result is way more blue than it really is, as seems evident in my photos above and below. (Also, the orange belt rail looks redder than it actually is.)

I had seen earlier shots of the car, taken at Brookville Equipment Company before it left for San Francisco, that concerned me because the body of the car, which is supposed to be a very unusual teal tone, looked flat-out blue. Which would be wrong. But another photo from Brookville looked just right, and we were told the car actually matched the sample panel we created after consultation with the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, which restored authentic Baltimore Transit car 7407. Both shots that looked too blue, in SF and Brookville, were taken indoors, so maybe it’s the temperature of the artificial lighting affecting the camera sensors. All I can say is that when I looked at it with my own eyes, it looks correct. Weird.

The right color was even more important because when it was first restored for Muni, in the early 1990s, Muni only allowed eight colors to be used in the palette for all the PCCs. Consequently, a number of the restored cars were indeed a “half-shade off”, including the 1063. (The actual Baltimore paint scheme is just below in the snow, with 1063 in its 1990s paint just below that.)

Anyway, on the recommendation of several people we respect, including then-head of Muni historic rail maintenance Karl Johnson, we opted for the original Baltimore PCC scheme, dating back to 1936. In working with the museum in Baltimore, we were told that photographs of their 7407 might appear to show silver lettering and logos, but the originals were actually gold, so we made them that way.

Without exact, modern paint codes, which we could not obtain for the 1063’s teal, you have to do the best you can. The different temperatures of old film don’t make it easier. The color photos of the Baltimore yellow/orange online, for example, run the gamut from almost as yellow as 1063 used to look to as orange as Muni’s Milan trams. And it’s important to remember that traction companies often mixed their own paint, and some cars came out of the repair shop in a slightly different shade than it went in. In the days of old lead-based paints, oxidation played a major role as well, which is why some old-timers swear a particular paint scheme is “off” when they’re remembering the oxidized shade, not the shiny color it wore when factory fresh.

Whatever. Car 1063 is here; it looks as good inside and out as the six cars already delivered in this restoration contract (1051, 1055, 1056, 1059, 1060, 1062). Don’t know when it will hit the streets for testing and its 1000-mile testing before being accepted for service, since 1055 is ahead of it. When it’s out, we expect to see a whole lot of photos in different lighting conditions. And when people see it in person, on the street, not through an internet post, it’s going to look right.

By the way, the 1063 came out on the return trip that took Pacific Electric 1061 to Brookville for rehab. No additional cars left today.

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The Lineup

Passing by Muni Metro East as today’s afternoon faded into evening, what should appear but a lineup representing 105 years of San Francisco transit history. Right to left, 1912 Car 1, the first publicly owned streetcar in America, getting ready to go out on a charter. Next to it, 1948 PCC 1015, signed for training duty. And then one of the new 2017 Siemens LRVs, number 2006, still being tested.

Not something you can see in any other US transit agency. But Muni makes it happen!

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