A familiar (if brief) clang

Wes Valaris says it warmed his heart. Wes is the cable car superintendent, and in our eyes he’s been doing a fantastic job burnishing the historic aspects of this most historic transit operation. But the test ride he took last Friday (April 17) was unlike anything in his career.

With the cables silent and the cars in the barn for more than a month now, the great maintenance crew has been catching up on a long backlog of restoration and preservation projects for the little cars at the cable car barn in Chinatown (Washington and Mason Streets).

There are hi-tech projects too, believe it or not, including the refitting of required security cameras on cars as they’re repaired. Last Friday, the maintenance team finished replacing the roof of Powell Cable Car 3 (pictured above in normal times at Hyde and Lombard last September). But they couldn’t certify the system until the cable car moved along a line. So they cranked up the Hyde Street cable and made a couple of round trips from the barn to Aquatic Park.

There were only four people on the car to ensure physical distancing, and of course no tourists lined up like they were last September in that photo. No, what greeted the cable car crew along the way were San Franciscans. Walking their dogs. Leaning out of windows. Waving. Smiling. “It seemed to lift people’s spirits,” Wes said. “Just a moment of normalcy.”

More repaired and restored cable cars are going to have to be tested in the coming weeks (just as some of the historic streetcars have been). So, folks along the cable car lines may occasionally hear that familiar clang again. It may be quite a long time until the little cars can come back full time — operator and passenger safety are paramount of course — but these “curtain calls” can remind us that they WILL come back. They’re rarin’ to go!

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