Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864

Yep, you read that right. Before Market Street had electric streetcars, cable cars, or horse-powered streetcars, it had a STEAM-powered streetcar. In fact, this was the first rail transit on Market Street, started up in 1860.

This photo, which we had not seen before, just surfaced on a Facebook group, without a source reference. It shows Market Street during the Civil War (the date given is 1864, and that seems at least very close). We’re looking west, toward Twin Peaks. The downtown hadn’t been built out that far in 1864; you can see the empty lands and sand hills in the distance. We’re in between the numbered streets on the south side, so that intersection on the north side is most likely O’Farrell and Dupont (later Grant Avenue — its namesake was still earning his right to have an SF street named after him at this time).

Note the giant American flag, reminding one and all that California was a Union state. Also note the boardwalks for pedestrians, the streetamps that probably used kerosene (piped gas was still in the future, along with electricity), and the lack of traffic.

And, wait, wait, in the distance, that rectangular object in the middle of the street is — a streetcar powered by steam.

It and three others belonged to the Market Street Railroad, first of several companies to incorporate the city’s main street into its name. They carried both passengers and baggage. The line opened on July 4, 1860, operating from Third and Market Streets to 16thand Valencia Streets. This was an unusual application of steam power, and expensive to operate. It was extended eastward to the foot of Market and south on Valencia to 26thStreet, but proved a financial failure, forcing conversion to horsecar operation in 1867. Yet this first line demonstrated the importance of fixed-route transit in developing neighborhoods.

As it turned out, steam-powered transit got a second life on Market from 1880-1888, when a steam dummy and trailer covered the western end of the street from Valencia to Castro, until cable car service was extended. More conventional steam passenger trains carried people from the geographic center of the city to the Cliff House and Ocean Beach later on.

Here’s a closer-up photo of the first steam-powered streetcar, taken near the opening in 1860. It’s the only one we knew to exist, until now.

 

We don’t have a steam train to ride on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 8 and 9, but there’ll be some great electric streetcars, cable cars, and buses. Come to our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street, between 11 am and 5 pm (new times–we’ll explain shortly).

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Incredible Film: Cable Cars on Pacific Ave., 1929

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. A couple of months ago, we got a call asking whether we recognized the location of a film. We did — Pacific Avenue. We had never seen motion pictures of that line, which closed in 1929. Now, the video has been posted on YouTube, with additional information on the provenance of the film.

It was professionally shot, with sound, by a Movietone Newsreel crew, which spent several days filming the line between Larkin and Divisadero, including the closing parade in November 1929. This was the last line still operating grip and trailer cars, and the crew was particularly intrigued by how they reversed direction at the end of the line. We were too.  Amazing to watch the ballet between the gripman and conductor as they swap the dummy and trailer to reverse direction. No layover, either!

The Pacific Avenue cable line was a real artifact. The Sutter Street Railroad ran several lines. This one, built in 1890-91 in an unusual wide (5-foot) gauge, ran up Ninth Street and Larkin to Pacific Avenue, then westward to Divisadero Street. After the 1906 earthquake, most of the line was converted to electric streetcar operation. But the Pacific Avenue portion was still cable operated, in part because of the grades, and in part because of the affluent neighborhood’s objections to “unsightly” overhead wires. United Railroads took over the line in 1902, then it passed to our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, in 1921. It was a big money loser for them, since it ran mostly along residential blocks and didn’t serve any real shopping or employment destinations. Besides, for much of its length, the 3-Jackson streetcar, which went straight downtown, ran parallel and just a block south. Market Street Railway finally won the right to abandon it and the farewell party is captured here.

The No. 46 grip car and No. 54 trailer car from this line are on display at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Joe Thompson’s Cable Car Guy website has the full history of this line, written by the incomparable Emiliano Echeverria and the late Walter Rice.

Some great scenes here. Love the two Pacific Heights matrons playing railfan, changing their seats to stay up front when the grip car reversed. The parade is priceless.

As always, we at Market Street Railway welcome your support in helping us preserve historic transit in San Francisco.

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“Coming to Town” Talk to Help Open Salesforce Transit Center August 11

 

Lots of buzz about the new $2.1 Salesforce Transit Center holding its grand opening Saturday, August 11. For example, this story in the Examiner, worth a read for the historic context. Or this one, about the incredible park atop the terminal. Or this one, about the loonnng delay in getting train service (commuter and high-speed to LA) into the terminal  in the afternoon.

But in this post, we’re inviting everyone to the new center’s bus deck at 1 pm on Saturday, August 11 to hear a presentation by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher called “Coming to Town: Gateway to San Francisco, 1875-Today.” Rick will talk about the way San Francisco welcomed commuters and visitors entering the city from the East, from the years just after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, to the dedication of the shiny new center that very day, including two-and-a-half Ferry Buildings and the original Transbay Terminal, hosting three different railroads that crossed the Bay Bridge when it was new.

Rick will be presenting next to a vintage Muni bus (you’ll have to show up to see which one), and will illustrate the talk with some rare photographs.

Some of those rare photographs are part of the new exhibit of the same name — Coming to Town — that opens at our San Francisco Railway Museum that same day, Saturday, August 12. It’s quite a story.

The photo at the top, for example, from the John Bromley Collection of our Market Street Railway Archive, shows trains in the then-new Transbay Terminal in 1939 or 1940. That train in the center is from the Sacramento Northern Railroad, and ran along much of what is now BART’s right-of-way through Contra Costa County, then crossed Suisun Bay on a ferry and continued to Sacramento, with some trains going as far as Chico!

And to bring things up to date, the photo below, taken just last week, shows a brand new diesel bus on the 7-Haight-Noriega with SF Transit Center as its destination (SF standing for Salesforce, not San Francisco in this case — Muni buses have been using the ground level bus stops there for a month now).  But looky looky next to it: a 1928 Milan tram incorrectly signed for “Transbay Terminal” as its destination. (The F-line streetcars used the old tracks to the old terminal from 1995 until 2000, when the extension to Fisherman’s Wharf opened.)  Nice catch by the photographer.

We also want to give a shout out to Jeremy Menzies’ “Tales of the Old Transbay Terminal” on Muni’s blog. Some great photos from the archives of the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Junction, which occupies the old Sacramento Northern right-of-way through the area and has preserved an interurban car identical to the one pictured above.

So, on Saturday, August 11, come by First and Mission Streets at 1 pm to see Rick Laubscher’s talk on the bus deck, then tour the fabulous new center during its open house, which includes the one-time-only opportunity to walk along the bus-only ramp connecting the center to the Bay Bridge. Here are all the details on the open house.

Then, at any point in the next six months or so, come to the San Francisco Railway Museum to see the new “Coming to Town” exhibit.

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Happy 145th Anniversary, Cable Cars!

August 2, 1873 — In the wee small hours of a misty San Francisco night (they didn’t call the month “Fogust” back then, but it was), a new type of transit was about to be inaugurated. An endless wire rope clattered beneath Clay Street. An odd open vehicle sat on the rails at the top of the hill. Standing by was Andrew Smith Hallidie, a Scot who had experience using wire rope in the mining business, and was part of the team promoting this new technology, aimed at making horsecars obsolete.

The operator of the little car peered out over the edge of the steep hill and decided, “No.” As the story goes, Hallidie himself stepped up, gripped the wire rope, went down the hill safely, and the cable car was born.

Some historians argue over the details of that opening run, but we’re not going to get into that here. We’ll just say that the first line, on Clay Street, became part of a longer line in the late 1880s that ran one way on Clay and the other on Sacramento Street. At that point, it began being served by new single-end cable cars without the trailers you see in this engraving from Wikimedia Commons.

On April 18, 1906, earthquake and fire wiped out identical cable cars that served Powell Street, so the cars from the Sacramento-Clay line were moved to Powell, where many still run to this day. Larger double-end cable cars took over on the Sacramento-Clay line and lasted until 1942 when the line was shut. One of the last group of Sacramento-Clay cable cars (Car 19, built in 1907) has been restored, thanks in part to advocacy from Market Street Railway, and is stored upstairs in the cable car barn at Washington and Mason Streets. Downstairs, in the Cable Car Museum, the last surviving original car from the Clay Street Hill Railroad, Grip Car 8, is on display.

 

While you haven’t been able to ride a cable car on Clay Street for 76 years, you can still ride cable cars that ran on Clay Street back in the 1890s. Current Powell cable car 11 (above), built in 1893 by Carter Brothers and recently refurbished by Muni’s shops, ran on the Sacramento-Clay line until 1906, and was recently repainted into its original Sacramento-Clay livery from the 1890s at Market Street Railway’s suggestion.

The other surviving Powell cable cars that once ran on Clay Street include numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27. (Thanks to Joe Thompson’s Cable-Car-Guy website for the authoritative roster.) If you climb aboard any of these cars on the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason lines today, you’re experiencing a connection back to the first street on which cable cars ever ran.

Happy 145th Anniversary of the first successful cable car system!

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“The Greatest Streetcar Museum in America”

    That’s the title of a great piece by Justin Franz on the Trains Magazine website today. Click the link and read it. It really says everything that needs to be said about the history and popularity of San Francisco’s vintage streetcar operation.  Thanks, Justin, for the story, and thanks, Muni, for the dedicated people who run and maintain these treasures. Just to be clear, the headline on Justin’s piece refers to the streetcars themselves, what we call the… — Read More

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A Gripping Evening with Val Lupiz

Val Lupiz, expert gripman and San Francisco historian, was hosted on July 18 by MSR Board member Paul Lucas in the second installment of Market Street Railway’s quarterly series Inside Track-Live! A packed house at our San Francisco Railway Museum was treated to hearing how Val started as a rail-obsessed kid, to being the only gripman to operate historic Cable Car 42 in multiple Muni Heritage Festivals. Val’s stories ranged from heartwarming— helping passengers with marriage proposals— to uproarious— how… — Read More

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Bringing LA Back to SF from PA

As our Members and friends know, the original F-line fleet of PCC streetcars, 16 in all, is being completely restored at Brookville Equipment Company in Brookville, Pennsylvania. The latest streetcar to arrive in San Francisco, rolling in as this is being written on July 25, is Car 1052, painted to honor Los Angeles Railway. We call it the “Shirley Temple Car” because that child star dedicated the first car of this design to operate in Los Angeles, in 1937. But… — Read More

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Update: 916 Test Cut Short; Not Out the Rest of the Weekend

  Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The “newest” member of the vintage fleet, 1946 Melbourne Tram 916, came out this morning for what was supposed to be two 12-hour days of testing along The Embarcadero and the T-line as far as Muni Metro East, to check out its systems following a recent rebuilding of its trucks. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint in its… — Read More

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Double Dose of Down Under This Weekend

UPDATE, Saturday July 21, 11:00 a.m. — Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The 916 developed a hot wheel bearing this morning and has safely returned to Cameron Beach Yard, where it will be fixed by the maintenance team. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint, and they’re excited about taking it out again soon, though it will almost certainly not be out Sunday, July 22.… — Read More

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Meet Cable Car Historian Val Lupiz July 18

San Francisco has a tradition of unique personalities who share a deep love of this special place. Nothing is more special in our special cities than the cable cars, and no one has a deeper love for our rolling National Historic Landmark than Val Lupiz. Val just celebrated his 19th anniversary as a cable car gripman, so he knows today’s system inside out. He also knows cable car history better than almost anyone else. That photo, above, is Val’s creation:… — Read More

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“The bell is charming; the horn works”

  The headline above is a great quote from a great story in Curbed SF about a dad and his two kids riding every Muni line terminal to terminal this summer. This installment includes the F-line where they rode the newest PCC to return to service following rebuilding, Car 1050 (pictured above in yet another calendar-worthy photo from Traci Cox). The author, Mc Allen, describes rolling along The Embarcadero on the “retro delight” PCC, “exceptionally maintained as rolling museums”. Along… — Read More

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“Zurich” Car to Return To Service Soon?

Look what was testing in Cameron Beach Yard on Sunday (July 8). Car 737, Muni’s lone European-style PCC streetcar has been out of service for some time. Built in 1952 for Brussels, Belgium, acquired by Muni in 2004, and painted (at then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request) to honor San Francisco’s sister city of Zurich, Switzerland (which ran similar-looking cars) it has needed parts and maintenance attention. But when word came that the Mayor of Zurich was coming to San Francisco later… — Read More

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Buses on F-line, No E-line Sunday, June 24

The Pride Parade has been San Francisco’s summer kickoff celebration for more than decades now, with huge throngs lining Market Street to watch almost 300 parade units go by. Back in the 1980s, historic streetcars were actually part of the parade, shown here in 1983, as a Blackpool boat tram and Muni’s famed Car 1 participated. The boat tram’s authentic destination sign seemed particularly appropriate. This year, though, streetcars will be completely absent from the parade route, not only for the duration… — Read More

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Historic Streetcars Move Back Home Tonight

After four years camping out unprotected at Muni Metro East, just off Third Street in Dogpatch, Muni’s historic fleet moves back to its regular home at Cameron Beach Yard at Geneva and San Jose Avenues in the Excelsior District tonight. On June 21, 2014, the streamlined PCC streetcars were moved out of Cameron Beach Yard, the former Geneva Division, which has housed San Francisco streetcars since 1900. This was done in order to replace all the track across the street… — Read More

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Last Public Vintage Streetcar Charter of 2018: June 16

Much to our disappointment, Muni is suspending historic streetcar charters for seven months starting June 22, (except for our arrangements Operators’ Circle members charter on September 7). They cite, among other things, a shutdown of the T-line this fall due to construction of a new platform for the Warriors’ arena in Mission Bay. Whatever the merit of the reason, to the best of knowledge, there will be only one historic streetcar charter open to all Market Street Railway members and… — Read More

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