This cable car was built in 1893 in the East Bay town of Newark by Carter Brothers. It served the Sacramento-Clay line until the 1906 earthquake and fire, and then was moved over to Powell Street, where it has run ever since. It was numbered 520 until Muni dropped the first number on Powell cable cars in the 1970s.
This car has a special cachet because In the 1947 noir movie Dark Passage, Humphrey Bogart finished a cable car ride on this car, hopping off at Powell and Market. (Though the movie obscures this, he actually had to ride two cable cars, because he boarded on Hyde Street, which was at the time served by double-ended cable cars of another company.)
For decades, cable car crews have noted Car 20’s fame with hand lettering inside the front left window. The cable car painters would paint it over every so often, and the crews would scratch it back.
According to Joe Thompson’s authoritative website cable-car-guy.com, a gripman named MJ McClure says he “started scratching the graffiti ‘H. Bogart Rode on This Car Circa 1946-47’ above the front inside window as a teaser for the observant but curious passenger. After a couple years it got a mention in the Herb Caen column. The Shop Guys would paint over it every two or three years…” But the graffiti would reappear, and remains to this day.
In an unauthorized activity to mark a gripman’s retirement, on November 8,1998, Car 20 became what was likely the first and only single-end Powell cable car to run along the California Street line, which has no turntables to reverse single-end cars. It carried a small load of passengers, mostly off-duty Muni people, according to Joe Thompson’s account, returning by “reverse gripping”: running the car backwards!
Today, Car 20 has the patina of a half-century of daily use since its only rebuilding in 1967. Back in Bogie’s day, many cable cars looked tired and worn. Muni has vastly improved the condition and appearance of the cable car fleet in the past quarter-century, and recently did some cosmetic work on Car 20. Enjoy it today for its authenticity and history.
Fun fact: “Bogie” is the British term for the wheel set under rail cars,
Powell Street Cable Car Specifications
Number of Cars
28 on roster (Maximum of 19 in service at one time)
60 (29 seated + 31 standing)
15,500 lb (7,030 kg)
27′ 6″ (8.4 m)
10′ 5″ (3.2 m)
8′ 0″ (2.4 m)
3′ 6″ (1.07 m)
Round Trip Route Length
Powell-Mason line: 3.2 mi (5.15 km)
Powell-Hyde line: 4.3 mi (6.92 km)
9.5 mph (15.3 km/h)
Powell: 9,300 ft (2,835 m)
Mason: 10,300 ft (3,140 m)
Hyde: 16,000 ft (4875 m)
Cable Motive Power
510-horsepower electric motor driving four cable winders at powerhouse
Powerhouse and Carbarn
Washington and Mason Streets
Built 1887 by Ferries & Cliff House Railway
Rebuilt 1906 by United Railroads
Rebuilt 1982-84 by San Francisco Municipal Railway
Steepest Grades on Powell Lines
Powell: 17% between Bush & Pine
Mason: 17% between Union & Green
Hyde: 21% between Bay & Chestnut