Back On Track — After 77 Years Off!

“Big 19” on California Street, about to clatter across the Powell Street cable car tracks. Traci Cox photo.

Early this morning, a cable car originally constructed in 1883 became Muni’s oldest operating transit vehicle. Early this morning, Sacramento & Clay Sts. cable car 19 made a full trip on the California Street line pulled by the cable. It was the first time this cable car was pulled by a cable on the street in 77 years, since its retirement in 1942. This news, and these wonderful photos, come from Market Street Railway member Traci Cox who documented the event. This was the final test in a 20-year process to return a tired, sagging cable car that forlornly sat at the back of the cable car barn into a fully operable vehicle.

“Big 19” crossing Kearny Street inbound, heading toward Market Street. Traci Cox photo.

This cable car was originally built as an open car, running on one of the five Market Street cable lines before the 1906 earthquake and fire. When that event destroyed the Market Street cable system, Car 19 was one 12 such cable cars rebuilt into the standard double-end cable car configuration for San Francisco — open end sections and an enclosed center section. It debuted on the Sacramento-Clay line in 1907 and ran continuously until 1942, when that line shut down. Among the longest cable cars ever built (34 feet), the Sacramento-Clay cars couldn’t fit on the turntables of the Powell Street lines, and so most of them were scrapped, with a few becoming static displays, including the most famous survivor, Car 16, which was lifted to the roof of The Emporium, there to be clambered upon by generations of kids during holiday roof ride season, until it finally rotted away.

The cable car on the left, shown climbing Haight Street near Laguna in 1886, is the type of Market Street Cable Car that was converted following the earthquake into a Sacramento-Clay car, like Big 19. Note the identical roof, then and now. (In the current restoration, the bells were moved onto the clerestory roof to operate the same as today’s cable cars. Photo from opensfhistory.org, wnp13.236

Sacramento-Clay Car 19 was bought by the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1948 (apparently for $50), and stored in San Francisco for possible future display. In 1967, as part of the effort to create a cable car museum at the Washington-Mason power- house, Car 19 returned “home” but because of its size and weight (14,000 lbs.) was not chosen for display at the museum. Instead, it was stuck in the rear of the cable car storage area and largely forgotten for 30 years, until the car’s body showed signs of weakness.

Sacramento-Clay Car 19 in storage at Pier 80 during the cable car rebuilding in 1983, before its restoration by the cable car carpentry shop in 1997-89. SFMTA Archive.

Market Street Railway advocated the car’s restoration, and in 1997-98, Muni’s wonderful cable car carpentry shop did so — to actual operational standards, instead of just a cosmetic upgrade. No plans emerged at that time to add it to the active fleet, but some years later, fitted with new California Street type trucks, a test was made to see if it would clear the curves. It didn’t make it out of the Cable Car Barn, as the trucks hit the running boards. So, it was returned to storage.

But the car intrigued Cable Car Maintenance Manager Arne Hansen, along with Division Superintendent Brent Jones. Arne’s crack crew adjusted the running boards and made a number of tests, incrementally preparing the car for a return to service.

Car 19’s twin, Car 21, climbs through Chinatown on Sacramento Street in 1941.

Last week, “Big 19” (so-called by the master gripman, Val Lupiz, who was at the levers last night, a nickname to differentiate it from little sibling Powell 19) was towed around the Cal line by a truck and cleared every curve and hill crown. This extra-long cable car had never run on California Street before, and the entire trackage of the line was rebuilt in 1982-84 anyway, leaving at least a little doubt as to whether it could clear some of the hill crowns and curves going to and from the Cable Car Barn.

This morning, with grips installed, Val Lupiz latched onto the cable and completed the circuit of the California Street line. Big 19 must now be certified by SFMTA’s System Safety Department, and once that’s done, this unique cable car can return to service — not to Sacramento & Clay Streets of course, but certainly on California Street, and then, who knows, perhaps even on the outer ends of the Powell lines, where switches installed in the 1980s rebuilding would allow it to bypass the turntables.

We have already requested that this wonderful and unique cable car carry passengers on California Street during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8. We’ll keep you up to date. We would expect it would take its place next to Muni’s other cable car that represents a “fallen flag” (abandoned line), O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Car 42 (which Market Street Railway acquired for Muni and helped restore 20 years ago), operating on Muni Heritage Weekends every year and other occasional special events.

Welcome back, “Big 19”, and special thanks to Arne Hansen and his crew, to Brent Jones, and to Val Lupiz, whose personal advocacy contributed greatly to this success.

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

PCC 1077, heading back to the F-line at Oracle Park, missed the opportunity to pick up a platform full of postgame E-line riders.

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down.

E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the way. This coincided with the crowds headed to the Giants-Cubs game, which 37,000 attended. The crew of at least one of those southbound cars, 737, took the opportunity to pick up intending ballpark passengers — a full load on that car, we’re told.

After the game, we spotted Birmingham PCC 1077 coming back from MME, marked “F-Market/”NOT IN SERVICE”. It was piloted by a regular operator (not a shopman). It dwelled at the ballpark E-line stop, but didn’t open its doors, even when an intending rider knocked. It would have been so great if that car had done what the 737 did pre-game and emptied the E-line platform, because it was a long time (surprise, surprise) before a regular E-line car came along. According to our live streetcar map, 1077 went back into service on the F and stayed out late into the evening, so the car itself was operational.

As our members and friends know, Market Street Railway supports Muni, serving as its nonprofit preservation partner. But we are also an independent advocacy group, which concentrates on pushing for the best possible service to riders. This blog and our other publications are heavily read by rail fans, not just locally, but worldwide. That’s great; their support has always been very important to us . But we also constantly think about the San Franciscans and visitors who don’t closely follow the individual streetcars or cable cars; they just want an efficient ride on these unique vehicles.

That’s why we mention this busy day on the waterfront. It shows that unexpected events (the power problem) can disrupt regular service, but it may also provide unexpected opportunities. The crew of 737 took the opportunity to go above and beyond in moving people during a peak period, even though off its regular route; the 1077 did not. We hope the next time something like this happens, putting passengers first will be top of mind for everyone involved with the vintage operation.

We also hope that every operator on E- and F-line pull-in trips will carry passengers all the way to Balboa Park on the J-line, instead of going out of service at 17th & Noe on their pull-in trips, which some still do. (The rules call for rail vehicles to be in-service on all trips between the car barn and their assigned route.) Passing up passengers does not make friends for the streetcars, or for Muni.

We’ll reiterate these observations to SFMTA management.

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Trip to Europe on the Waterfront

With Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 pulling an temporary “Brexit” from this summer’s special waterfront streetcar service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Muni Chief Julie Kirschbaum is sending in fun substitutes to fill in.

The coming two Tuesdays and Wednesdays (July 23-24 and July 30-31), 1952 Euro PCC 737 (which operated in Brussels but is painted to honor San Francisco’s Sister City, Zurich, Switzerland) will be cruising the waterfront. As a bonus, it will also operate on Swiss National Day, Thursday, August 1. (The past few weeks, 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 has filled in.)

It’s a fun ride, smooth as silk, and entertaining inside. Muni’s Euro PCC combines a Brussels interior (complete with signage in Flemish and French) with promotional ads about Zurich above the windows, and Zurich’s famous blue livery on the exterior. The car was turned into this hybrid when the Zurich-San Francisco Sister City Committee asked then-Mayor Gavin Newsom for a “Zurich” streetcar to join the fleet, and the idea of a genuine Zurich vintage tram had to be abandoned because their very narrow bodies and meter-gauge trucks could not be adapted for use in San Francisco (not that there were any offered to San Francisco in any event).

But hey, in San Francisco, we celebrate diversity, so come ride the “Zurles” tram (or is it Brussich?).

Meanwhile, there appears to be good news on Boat 228: the shop has taken the motors off the car and believe they can fix the problem that took it out of service within two more weeks. Muni Rail Maintenance Chief Randy Catanach passed along these photos of one of the trucks, before and after the shop team pressure washed it. That boat is going to look great when it’s back.

We do expect at least one of the two boats to operate on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8. We expect the Euro PCC to be out as well, along with the Melbourne tram(s!) and Muni’s famed 1912 Car 1, plus, of course the every popular 1896 “Dinky” 578 (although it can no longer traverse the route it’s signed for, “Ellis & O’Farrell” via Devisadero [cq]. Make sure you leave time to ride the buses and cable cars too!

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Thank You, Ed Reiskin

Note: A version of this article is contained in the current edition of the Market Street Railway magazine Inside Track, reaching mailboxes now. It has been updated here.  

By Carmen Clark, MSR Board Chair and Rick Laubscher, MSR President

Ed Reiskin, a daily Muni rider, on a Milan tram
(Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle)

Edward D. Reiskin, Director of Transportation (the top executive) of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is moving on from his post. His last day in the office was this week. We at Market Street Railway will greatly miss his leadership.

The top job at SFMTA is more demanding than that of almost any transit agency CEO, in large part because SFMTA itself is more than just a transit agency. It is in charge not just of San Francisco’s buses, light rail vehicles, cable cars, and streetcars, but also of its parking, taxis, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and even the operation of the streets themselves.  

Ed Reiskin came into this multifaceted job at the behest of the late mayor Edwin W. Lee in 2011. Reiskin had succeeded Lee as head of the Department of Public Works, and Mayor Lee believed his knowledge of the city and its processes for getting things done would serve San Francisco well. He certainly brought impressive credentials to the job, having been Deputy Mayor of Washington DC and holding Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, an MBA from New York University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT.

At SFMTA, Ed devoted much time trying to build a more unified culture from the disparate departments that had been combined into the larger agency, to deliver services more efficiently to the public. Importantly for us, Reiskin also recognized the importance of putting his agency’s best foot forward to the public. He was a consistent supporter of historic streetcar and cable car service, not at the expense of reliable daily bus and light rail service, but still as a core part of the basic transit network, one that brought the public delight. 

During Reiskin’s tenure, Muni Heritage Weekends became an annual event after being started as a one-time Muni Centennial event in 2012. The second historic streetcar line, the E-Embarcadero, finally began operations after being a dream for decades. The renovation of the 32-car PCC fleet was completed, and a new track loop at Civic Center has been approved and funded, allowing for future expansion of F-line service in the most heavily traveled portion of the line. As Ed prepares to depart, proposals are being solicited to restore five more priceless double-end vintage streetcars, and planning is again proceeding to extend historic streetcar service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Aquatic Park, the first step in the eventual extension to Fort Mason.  

Ed Reiskin provided the leadership to achieve all these things for the historic streetcar operation in San Francisco, and much more. Though his schedule was jammed with demands and meetings, he found time to meet with us every month, bringing in his top lieutenants to go over projects in process and ensure they were moving forward, and listening to our ideas for further improvements. 

All the while, he oversaw the replacement of virtually Muni’s entire bus and light rail fleet and responded to demands from bicyclists and pedestrians for safer streets by implementing safety measures at a pace unprecedented in San Francisco’s history, even as fast-growing population, increased congestion, understaffing, and worn out infrastructure made his job tougher. 

After eight high-pressure years, Ed Reiskin has elected to seek new professional challenges, while the SFMTA Board faces the very big challenge of finding a new Director of Transportation that can balance the priorities and deliver services to the people of San Francisco as well as Ed Reiskin has.

On behalf of the members and friends of Market Street Railway, we extend our deep thanks for his steady and consistent leadership and wish him well in his future endeavors.

UPDATED: At the SFMTA Board of Directors Meeting on July 15, MSR President Rick Laubscher made this statement on behalf of Market Street Railway.

Our organization has been supporting Muni for 40 years.  When I first met Ed Reiskin eight years ago, the only thing we asked is that he be honest with us.  Tell us where he agreed, where he didn’t, what might be possible, what wasn’t.  

In other words, open communication and fair dealing.  That should be the norm, but it often hasn’t been in the past.

With Ed, it was.  We have accomplished a lot of positive things together, and we appreciate that.

And though we focus on Muni’s cable cars and historic streetcars and buses, our organization is passionate about the success of SFMTA as a whole.  We have been transit-first advocates for decades.  And we know a lot about how SFMTA works – and sometimes, why it doesn’t work as well as we’d all like.

That’s why we want to thank Ed for his leadership in every area of SFMTA’s responsibilities.  You, as a Board, have made an excellent decision in our view by making Tom Maguire the interim director.  You face a daunting decision in finding a permanent director who can match up to the standards Ed Reiskin has set for humble yet passionate service, for collaboration, and for his love of this city and its transportation networks.

Thank you, Ed. A great transportation chief. A great San Franciscan.

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Boat Tram Still Sidelined

Update: 1928 Melbourne Tram 496 will continue to substitute for 1934 Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 on The Embarcadero Tuesday and Wednesday, July 16-17, while Muni maintenance crews analyze the problem with one of the motors or bearings. We will provide updates on the progress of fixing the boat tram as available. Muni Maintenance management tells us they will work to get the other Boat Tram, 233, operational for Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, should the problem with 228 be… — Read More

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Melbourne Tram Subs for Boat This Week

The popular 1934 Blackpool (England) open-topped “Boat Tram” encountered a problem at the end of its service week last Wednesday and is being worked on this week, so 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for it on the special waterfront service Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Muni assures us they’ll make every effort to return Boat service as quickly as possible. The Melbourne tram is a sweet ride, and with windows that drop all the way… — Read More

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