Remembering Cam Beach

Cam Beach with Muni’s oldest streetcar, 1896-vintage Car 578

Cameron Beach would have turned 70 today. San Francisco’s transit system would be better if he were still with us. But that wasn’t to be. On March 19, 2011, he died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time of his death, he was a member of SFMTA’s Board of Directors, having been appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007, following his retirement as Chief Operating Officer of Sacramento Regional Transit.

On his 70th birthday, we want to share his story and his spirit with those who never knew him, and those who were among his many friends.

On the SFMTA board, Cam quickly won the respect of his fellow directors for his tremendous depth of knowledge and experience and his unswerving commitment to meeting the needs of the public. In an interview, he said, “I have always viewed issues from the user’s point of view.  How is the passenger or the motorist or the person looking for a parking place or the bicyclist or the pedestrian going to perceive our action?” He enjoyed great respect from employees across SFMTA, because they knew he understood the demands of their jobs, but also couldn’t be “bs’d” because of that detailed understanding of operations and maintenance. With a lifetime of knowledge about Muni, starting as a young rail and bus fan, you couldn’t fool Cam, and he in turn educated his fellow SFMTA Board members in a way that was insightful and optimistic, concentrating on the possibilities instead of just the shortcomings. Everyone who knew Cam knew he was a straight shooter, looking for positives wherever possible, refusing to play “gotcha” games and deal in oneupmanship.

First and foremost, Cam Beach was a San Franciscan, believing in the enduring promise of this city, while certainly not blind to its shortcomings. He was born January 26, 1949, at Letterman Hospital. He grew up in Cow Hollow, went to high school at Sacred Heart and Galileo, from which he graduated. Growing up in the city, he rode Muni everywhere, and became a lifelong fan of the system, incredibly knowledgeable about its history and operations. Even as he built a career and raised a family in Sacramento, his heart stayed here, and he was delighted to visit as much as possible, and finally relocate. Going out on foggy days from his West Portal home, Going out on foggy days, he’d sometimes wear a sweatshirt emblazoned “Old School San Francisco Native”.

Cam was a long-time Market Street Railway Member who joined our Board of Directors in 2001, even before he retired from his job Sacramento. Early in 2003, he was joined on our board by Carmen Clark, another transportation professional with deep experience in San Francisco. It was love at first sight. They married at Grace Cathedral and took a California Street cable car to their reception. It doesn’t get much more San Francisco than that.

Cam Beach and Carmen Clark

Though Cam left our board when he joined SFMTA’s in 2007, he never lost his love for the historic streetcars and cable cars. He recognized that they not only brought almost 50,000 people where they wanted to go every day, but they also helped Muni put its best foot forward to the public, something he believed was increasingly important. He was a strong supporter of increasing F-line streetcar service to meet rising demand, for the start up of the E-Embarcadero line, and the extension of service to Aquatic Park and Fort Mason.  

2007 Bus Rodeo

As his many friends know, Cam loved buses too, perhaps just as much. That’s why Market Street Railway was happy to support Muni’s motor coach maintenance team in its restoration of one of Cam’s favorite vehicle types, the Mack buses he grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. We paid for new tires and upholstery, things Muni couldn’t obtain through their regular channels. Now that the Mack is completely restored, we will be asking SFMTA to dedicate that coach, No. 2230, to Cam, as a complement to its naming of the historic streetcars’ home at Geneva and San Jose Avenues, as Cameron Beach Yard.

Restored 1956 Mack Coach 2230 at Levi’s Plaza

To further honor Cam’s memory, we are inviting our members and friends to make a donation to help us buy tires for the very historic bus Muni’s team is restoring now: a 1947 Twin Coach dual-engine bus bought by Muni for the express purpose of replacing the Powell Street cable cars. The arrogant actions of then-Mayor Roger Lapham in ordering the bus purchase were met by the people power led by Friedel Klussmann, the citizen who mobilized women and men to stop Lapham’s plan and save the Powell cable cars. This bus and its siblings ended up running on mostly minor Muni routes, but still retain a potent place in history for where they DIDN’T run.

Newspaper clip featuring the Twin Coach type now being restored at Muni

If you’d like to help remember Cam’s memory by contributing to the restoration of this bus, you can do so here, choose “Fleet Enhancement Fund”, and note in the box that your donation is in Cam’s memory. Thanks so much!

We at Market Street Railway are proud and honored that Carmen Clark today serves as our Board Chair. Her own decades-long commitment to better transit is reinforced, she says, by the many things she learned from Cam, and by his unswerving dedication to making Muni better. On her desk, she keeps a verse by Ralph Waldo Emerson she says reminds her of Cam’s virtues. We agree:

DEFINITION OF A SUCCESSFUL LIFE

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

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“Torpedoes” on the F-line

Muni’s biggest PCC streetcars have been nicknamed “torpedoes” by fans since shortly after they arrived in San Francisco in 1948. The 50’5″ behemoths are four feet longer than the far more numerous single-end PCC streamliners, and a full nine feet wide. The origin of the nickname is a bit obscure, but many think it derives from the sleekness of the design.

There are seven of these cars in Muni’s vintage streetcar fleet. Three are currently being completely rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania. The other four have been fully engaged for the past few years causing the waterfront on the E-Embarcadero line between Fisherman’s Wharf and Oracle (formerly AT&T) Park and the Caltrain depot.

But the two-month shutdown of the E-line that started January 22 has seen the torpedoes reassigned to the F-line, which means they’re quite visible on Market Street and the northern Embarcadero, where their extra-large capacity is put to good use. At the top, Car 1011 passes Pier 23 Cafe (great place for an affordable meal and music on the waterfront, by the way), headed for another trip up Market to Castro Street, while below, Car 1009, painted in tribute to Dallas, crosses over Don Chee Way from The Embarcadero to Steuart Street, bound up Market at night.

When the E-reopens at the end of March, the four active torpedoes will shift back, so grab a ride up Market on one now! They’ll be joined by the end of this year by their three siblings currently at Brookville.

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10-Year Profile Picture Challenge

Posting old and current profile photos side by side has been the rage on Facebook of late, so we thought we’d post our own…just one of dozens of comparisons we could make that show just how wonderful Muni’s restoration of historic streetcars is.

This car, 1009, admittedly needed more “plastic surgery” than most others. The photo from 10 years ago shows it ripped (not the good muscle kind, either) and slathered in blue protective paint after sitting out of service for almost 30 years. But because it is a rare double-end PCC that can operate on lines such as the E-Embarcadero, where single-end cars can’t use the current southern terminal, Muni made the investment in restoration. Brookville Equipment Corporation of Pennsylvania did the work, as they have with all of Muni’s PCCs restored so far, and paid close attention to detail.

In keeping with the practice of the historic fleet, it was painted in the eye-popping red and cream of Dallas Terminal & Railway, which operated double-end PCCs in this livery after World War II.

Not many “facelifts” come out this well…and not many can say how much younger their photos look today than 10 years ago.

This is a big reason Market Street Railway exists. Our advocacy helped keep this streetcar from being scrapped decades ago, and helped get it selected for restoration 10 years ago. Your support makes us able to do things like this. Click here to help us. Thanks.

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E-line Shuts Down for Two Months Starting Jan. 22

Beginning January 22, the E-Embarcadero streetcar line will be completely shut down for approximately two months. The shutdown is related to construction of a new center boarding platform on the T-line to serve the new Golden State Warriors’ arena, Chase Center, on Third Street. Beyond the impact on the E-line, the entire six-mile length of the T-Third light rail line will be converted to bus operation for the same period.

Wait, what? That new platform is almost a mile south of the end of the E-line, so why is the E affected? Well, the construction will sever the rail link to Muni Metro East (MME), one of the two service and storage facilities for Muni’s light rail vehicles. MME stores and services vehicles for other lines as well, particularly the N-Judah (but not the historic streetcars, which moved back to their Cameron Beach Yard home near Balboa Park in 2018). So Muni needs room to store those light rail vehicles overnight and are using the track the E-line uses to turn around on King Street, plus the T-line tracks on Channel and Third Streets north of the construction zone. Muni staff was concerned that E-line operations would overly complicate their LRV movements.

It’s not clear how seriously Muni considered constructing a bypass track to carry T-line trains around the one block construction zone, which would have also allowed MME to remain in operation. During BART construction in the 1960s and 1970s, Muni regularly used these temporary track arrangements to carry PCC streetcars on the J, K, L, M, and N lines around the construction of BART stations on Market Street, switching the streetcars from one side of Market to the other repeatedly as the work progressed, with nothing more than occasional weekend substitution of buses. Of course, back then, the alternative would have been shutting down the Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels and going to complete bus substitution on all five streetcar lines, an alternative Muni lacked the extra buses to carry out at the time.

But that was then and this is now. Muni’s planning staff did consult with Market Street Railway during the decision, leading to a better result than they initially proposed. Besides the E-line shutdown, Muni Planning initially proposed modifications to F-line service during the T-line shutdown, leading to less frequent and convenient F-line service during this period. Muni staff was concerned about having enough operators to handle the substitute T-line buses, and wanted to take some operators from the F. But after hearing our concerns (which reflected impacts on Fisherman’s Wharf and Castro merchants as well as F-line riders), they agreed to leave F-line service unchanged during the T-line construction.

Muni believes the T-line substitute buses will provide enough capacity to handle intending E-line riders on King Street and the southern Embarcadero. The T-bus terminal is on Market Street at the Embarcadero Muni Metro station, next to F-line stops to and from the Wharf, so there will be a connection there.

The double-end PCC streetcars normally used on the E-line will appear on the F-line during the shutdown period. No word on whether Melbourne 496, the popular 1928 tram that has been an E-line regular for the past year, will join them on the F once in awhile during the shutdown.

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