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Remembering the Cable Car Rebuild 25 Years Later

When the reduced cable car system reopened in 1957, it was still old. During the lengthy shutdown of the California and Hyde Street trackage, Muni focused on consolidating operations with its Powell lines, not on complete renewal. Capital funding, as usual, was in short supply, so much so that in this same period, Muni had to effect a complicated lease arrangement for used PCC streetcars from St. Louis so the last of its original streetcar fleet could finally be replaced.

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The Ballad of an F-line Trip

In 1901, the poet Gelett Burgess penned a poem that celebrated a cable car ride. Specifically, The Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip chronicled the feeling of riding what was then San Francisco’s newest cable car line, the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line, which had opened ten years before. The rule of that day was that any new cable car line was ‘inferior’ at the crossings to older lines, meaning that a gripman on the new line had to drop the cable at every crossing of an older line to keep the grip from slicing through the older line’s ‘superior’ cable, which crossed above the new line’s cable. Since the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line was the newest line of all, its gripmen had to drop the cable 22 times on every roundtrip, which is why Burgess wrote, “You are apt to earn your wages, on the Hyde Street Grip.”

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