Two Streetcars Get Dressed for the Holidays

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It’s that time of year again…

With their bellies still full of Thanksgiving turkey, a merry group of Market Street Railways volunteers gathered at Muni’s Geneva Yard this weekend to decorate two vintage streetcars for the holidays. Per usual, the two cars — New Orleans No. 952 and Milan No. 1818 — were adorned with a colorful assortment of garlands, bells, tinsel, ribbons, and sparkly snowflakes.

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Truth be told, it could have been a much less pleasant experience.

Year in and year out, Mother Nature has smiled upon MSR’s annual holiday decorating event by delivering warm, dry weather while the streetcars received their seasonal makeover. This year, however, it was cold and rainy.  Fortunately, the new Geneva shed was completed just a month ago, which meant that the MSR crew was able to get the job done under the building’s big roof without having to endure the elements.

The new shed is a good thing for the preservation of San Francisco’s vintage streetcar fleet, but today it also turned out to be a very good thing for the preservation of our volunteers as well.

A wonderful time was had by all. Enjoy these photos by MSR Board Member Todd Lappin:

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A Salute to the China Clipper!

ba-clipper22_PH1_0502594485_part6.jpgThere’s a case to be made that 75 years ago, San Francisco was the most interesting transportation venue in the world, however briefly.  For it was three-quarters of a century ago today that the first Martin Flying Boat took off from San Francisco Bay, bound for Manila (photo, left, from Associated Press).

That seaplane was named the China Clipper by its owner, Pan American  Airways, a name that the public applied to every other Pan Am plane that joined it on the route. Our friend Carl Nolte tells the story wonderfully in today’s Chronicle.

Nolte notes that the pilot on that first flight flew under the cables of the unfinished Bay Bridge on his takeoff. He would also have flown over numerous ferries still providing the only way to get directly between the City, the East Bay, and Marin. That made the Ferry Building one of the busiest transit terminals in the world, served by more than 800 streetcars in the afternoon peak period. (What? You didn’t think we would leave streetcars out, however tenuous the connection, did you?)

When you consider that this first China Clipper flight came just eight years after Lindbergh’s New York to Paris flight, seen as a revolution in aviation, it is a stunning testimony to the speed at which technology developed, as well as a tribute to the guts of Pan Am for inaugurating what was a risky, but visionary, service. Though almost no San Franciscan could afford a trans-Pacific flight, which was priced at almost $30,000 round trip in today’s dollars, all appreciated that it cemented their city’s role as the undisputed commercial capital of the West Coast (for at least a little while longer).

Personal note: when I was growing up in my family’s delicatessen on Market Street (“Laubscher Brothers: Famous for Fine Salads”), my great uncle, Carl Laubscher, would tell me that early in the China Clipper era, Pan Am came to him and his brothers and asked if they would supply box lunches for the passengers on the first leg of the flight. He said they turned it down, thus missing a chance to get in on the ground floor of what became the airline catering business. Thanks, Unc! 

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First Rewired PCC Back Home; Another Leaves

1071 arrives Metro East 112010.jpgMuni had PCCs coming and going today at Metro East. Muni crews unloaded the first of 11 vintage streamliners from Muni’s 1070 class following its complete rewiring at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania.

The rain led them to welcome the streetcar back home inside the spacious light rail facility at Cesar Chavez and Illinois Streets, just off the T-line. The 1070 class streetcars originally ran in Minneapolis-St. Paul when new in the late 1940s, and this one, No. 1071, is painted in the bright yellow and dark green of its original owner, Twin City Rapid Transit. (This group of cars was sold to Newark, New Jersey in the early 1950s, and purchased by Muni from New Jersey Transit in 2004.)

1079 departs Metro East 112010.jpgThe 1070-class streetcars were given a cosmetic restoration by Muni, but this did not include the wiring, which was original and caused major reliability problems, such that only five of the 11 streetcars have actually carried passengers on the F-line (Nos. 1075, 1076, and 1077, which are currently operational, and 1078 and 1079, which are sidelined with significant problems). No. 1078 is already at Brookville, and No. 1079, honoring Detroit Street Railways and pictured at right, was loaded on the same trailer that delivered No. 1071 and sent back to Brookville today.

No. 1071, the prototype for the rewired 1070-class, It features an entirely new accelerator assembly under the floor, designed in the Czech Republic as an updated version of the reliable Westinghouse type propulsion components used on many of the 5,000 PCCs that once ran in North America. This new accelerator has been tested for the past nine months in PCC No. 1055, and has provided very reliable service.

The 1070 class of PCC streetcars had General Electric components until the renovation, but Muni is gradually standardizing on a single type of PCC propulsion system, to reduce maintenance training and parts requirements.

No. 1071 will be tested by Muni maintenance staff for up to 30 days to ensure it meets all specifications and will then be put into service. This will come none too soon, because the shops are struggling on a daily basis to meet the demand for service on the F-line.  Having 11 reliable 1070-class streetcars available will make a big difference, but it may take another year before all of these are complete.

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O’Shaughnessy’s Map Now Available at the Museum

1921 street railways map right edge.jpgM. M. O’Shaughnessy is the engineer who built the backbone of the San Francisco we know today.  Think Robert Moses in New York without the colossal ego and disregard for people.  Among his enduring legacy of public works in our city, count 68 miles of Muni streetcar lines (including the J, K, L, M, and N lines), the Twin Peaks Tunnel from Castro to West Portal, the Sunset Tunnel under Buena Vista Park, the Stockton Tunnel, the Great Highway, and his crowning achievement, the Hetch Hetchy project, which still supplies the city and the Peninsula with its water.

As part of the current exhibition All the Way Down Market at our San Francisco
Railway Museum
, we’re displaying a map of San Francisco’s street railways drafted for
O’Shaughnessy in 1921.  The original was donated to the museum by the
family of the late James Adler. 

The 16 x 20 inch map shows all the streetcar lines and cable car lines operating in the city almost 90 years ago, along with the few bus lines then in existence. The corners have a distinctive intertwined “SF”, almost anticipating the Giants’ logo still more than a third of a century in the future!  It also includes radii drawn at one-mile intervals from the Ferry Building which was, of course, the center of the known transit universe at the time. The map has sparked a lot of conversation along with requests to buy reproductions of it. 

In response, we have created a limited edition reproduction of 100 of this fascinating map, in the same 16 x 20 inch size, scale, and colors as the original. It is printed on archival-quality mat board, highly suitable for framing. It will make a great conversation piece on your wall and a dandy holiday gift for any San Franciscan or city lover.

This exclusive map is available for $39.95 (10% off for our members) only at the museum, 77 Steuart Street, (open daily except Monday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.) with all proceeds benefiting Market Street Railway’s mission of preserving historic transit in San Francisco.

We’ve included a sliver of the map here so you can get an idea of what it is. We hope you’ll drop by the see the whole map, plus our exhibit of then-and-now photos documenting 150 years of rail transit on Market Street. And while you’re in, don’t forget to pick up our new 2011 calendar!

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Waiting Since 1958: Giants’ Bus Finally Comes

I first saw the Giants play the year this photo was taken.  It’s April 1958 and a packed Marmon-Herrington trolley coach, already about 10 years old, is filled with Giants’ fans at Seals Stadium, 16th and Bryant Streets.  If you think your wait for a Muni bus or streetcar today is long, think about my wait from that first day at Seals Stadium.  I was hooked immediately and have stayed hooked ever since, more than 52 years now. When I… — Read More

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