Back In Business!

On a blustery April Saturday, Muni ‘Iron Monster’ streetcar No. 162 carried a full load of passengers for the first time in 50 years. The beautifully restored 1914 streetcar began its second life on the streets of San Francisco April 19, 2008.


Streetcar No. 162 heads inbound on Ulloa Street on the L-line, having just turned from 15th Avenue. West Portal is two blocks away. Fifty years ago, it would have headed into the Twin Peaks Tunnel to reach Market Street. This time, it was headed for the K-line as part of its inaugural charter on April 19. Kevin Sheridan photo.

Its chartered tour of original Muni lines west of Twin Peaks carried Market Street Railway members who contributed money and effort to bring the car home.

The tour of the K, L, and M lines was Market Street Railway’s way of thanking the major donors who collectively raised $70,000 to enable Muni to buy back No. 162 from Orange Empire Railway Museum in Riverside County, which had acquired it in 1958, following its initial retirement from Muni. Because the museum had a second Muni car (No. 171), little attention was paid to No. 162 during its 45-year stay there, but the dry high desert conditions helped preserve it.

Upon its return to San Francisco in July 2003, Market Street Railway volunteers immediately began the most critical restoration task, repairing and recanvassing No. 162’s roof. Then they began work on its platforms and interior. On September 12, 2004, the venerable car was towed to Muni’s Green Division by 1917 motor flat No. C-1 (itself restored by Market Street Railway volunteers) to continue its rehabilitation by Muni craftsworkers.

Just a few months after it had arrived at Market Street Railway’s restoration facility at Duboce & Market, No. 162 stood sentinel over a memorial service for its first project manager, Dave Pharr, the Market Street Railway Director and restoration leader who had strongly advocated its return. The restoration facility is now named for Dave. Leadership of the restoration project was picked up by Jack Smith, Market Street Railway Director Emeritus and a retired, legendary Muni streetcar motorman. Stunningly, just a week after Jack rode No. 162 out to Muni that September Sunday in 2004, he too passed away suddenly.

At the inaugural charter run on April 19, Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher paid tribute to the work of Dave and Jack in helping restore No. 162, along with other volunteers including Arnold Chasinov, Matt Cheng, Chris & Darringer, Vince Fabris, Rhonda Farrell, Steve Ferrario, Mike Frew, Eddy Hansen, Richard Henderson, Jonathan Lammers, Peter McGowan, Don McKinsey, Bob Minkoff, Chris O’Neill, Royce Ong, Bill Wong, Nicholas Yee, and Frank Zepeda, as well as the late Fred Bennett and the late Phil Hollenbeck, who also donated to the restoration. Also remembered was the late Loring Jensen, a major donor to the reacquisition of No. 162.


Father Tim O’Donovan breaks a bottle of bubbly with MSR President Rick Laubscher. Peter Ehrlich photo.

To celebrate the streetcar’s completion, one of the major donors to the car acquisition fund, Father Tim O’Donovan, who had flown in from Sandpoint, Idaho, joined Rick Laubscher in breaking a bottle of bubbly on the car’s anticlimber. Immediately following that splash, a red ribbon in the doorway was cut by Jerry Graham and Don Holmgren—board members of the Friends of the Cable Car Museum, which provided the largest overall donation—and by Market Street Railway Director Mike Frew, the largest individual donor and a major contributor of volunteer time as well.

Breezy ride

Then it was off on a sunny but unseasonably chilly jaunt. The hardier riders braved the bone numbing front platform, while others rode in relative comfort in the center section with the bulkhead doors firmly shut. It was an excellent history lesson: reminding everyone why the originally open end sections of early Muni streetcars were glazed just a few years after their arrival, and also why most San Franciscans of the 1950s were only too happy to exchange these drafty Iron Monsters for modern enclosed PCC streetcars.


Rick Laubscher photo.

The charter ran out the M-line through Ocean View, past San Francisco State and Stonestown and through Lakeside Village to West Portal, where No. 162 switched to the L-line straight out to Ocean Beach, ignoring the ‘new’ Zoo loop (built in the 1930s) for the stub terminal at 48th & Taraval, the only remaining section of original Muni track in the system. The sight of the 1914 streetcar on 1923 track lined with Belgian block warmed wind-whipped hearts. The breeze off the ocean was strong enough that several charter riders who had come all the way from Chicago for the event were accused of bringing the Windy City with them.

In fact, as the car was reversed at the L-line beach stub, word came over the radio that the wind had blown a tree onto the J-line overhead wires, shutting that line down. This truncated the charter, which after returning to West Portal on the L and running through the Ingleside on the K, could only go to Glen Park on the J instead of continuing downtown to Duboce, as planned. Nonetheless, everyone on the inaugural charter were delighted with their ride on ths marvelous machine, which performed perfectly throughout. Not so lucky were the US and San Francisco flags placed on the four corners of the car by Market Street Railway Director Emeritus Art Michel. Overhanging bushes on the M-line right-of-way sheared off three of the four.

Going into passenger service in August

Following the charter, the car was returned to the Muni shops for some final touch-ups and adjustments in anticipation of its public debut in conjunction with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) rail conference in San Francisco at the beginning of June. The car was displayed at the APTA rail rodeo, which took place at Muni’s new Metro East facility off Third Street, and was used for charters by APTA members. It is scheduled to enter regular service on the F-line in August following a formal dedication. It will no doubt delight visitors and residents, young and old alike, as it commences its second life in San Francisco.

Market Street Railway again thanks all those who donated to reacquire the car, the volunteers who began restoration work, the great craftsworkers under the leadership of John Sadorra at Muni who completed the restoration, and the leadership of the Municipal Transportation Agency, led by Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford, for their commitment to bringing No. 162 back into service.
» About Muni Streetcar No. 162
» Streetcar No. 162: Tested Tough!