This cable car wears a livery that’s both familiar to San Franciscans and unique at the same time – at least for a double-ended California Street cable car.
Cable Cars first came to California Street in 1878. From early days, they were painted in a deep maroon color, with sky blue accents. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, which wiped out the entire California Street fleet, new cable cars almost identical to the old ones were built, painted the same way. This was one of those cable cars built in 1906.
Around 1940, their owner, the California Street Cable Railroad Company, simplified the paint scheme somewhat, and late in the decade simplified in some more, but still kept the maroon color.
The City-owned Muni took over the California Street Cable Railway Co. in 1952. Eight years before, Muni had taken over the Powell cable lines from Market Street Railway Company. Muni made changes to the Powell liveries, matching the green and cream colors that Muni was adopting for its streetcars and buses. What would they do in ’52 with the Cal cars? Initially, they left the Cal Cable cars in their traditional maroon livery, simply painting “Municipal Railway of San Francisco” over the old owner’s name on the letterboards above the side windows. One car, though, got a complete repaint in the maroon colors: This car, which then wore number 8.
In 1956, Car 8’s maroon paint was still pretty fresh, yet Muni chose it over the other Cal cars to receive another complete repaint, in a dramatically different livery: the same green and cream they were using on the Powell cars. In place of the traditional “ribbon” on the ends listing the terminals, Muni made the ends plain, resembling the Powell cars. It was quite a change to see after watching nothing but maroon cable cars on California Street since the 19th century.
The experiment didn’t last. Muni shut down the California Street cable line throughout 1957 to rebuild the track to be compatible with the Powell lines and connect the Cal line to its new home at the Washington-Mason car barn. When the line started running again, Car 8 had been given a new number, 55, and painted maroon again.
It’s not clear why more California cars weren’t painted in the green and cream. There were 12 cars in the California Street fleet, and it may be that Muni didn’t have the resources to repaint them all while the line was down in 1957. It might also be that the new livery seemed too jarring on California Street.
Car 55 was the first cable car to test the modified California Street track in December 1957, and the first Cal car used in testing when the system was completely rebuilt in 1984.
Car 55 soldiered on in its traditional maroon livery into the 2010s, when an accident cracked its frame and forced its withdrawal from service. The car has now been completely reconstructed by skilled Muni crafts workers, expected to re-enter service in 2023, with its 1956 green and cream livery restored.
California Street Cable Car Specifications
Number of Cars
12 on roster
Maximum of 7 in service at one time
68 (34 seated + 34 standing)
16,800 lb (7,620 kg)
30′ 3″ (9.2 m)
10′ 2″ (3.1 m)
8′ 0″ (2.4 m)
3′ 6″ (1.07 m)
Round Trip Route Length
California line: 2.8 mi (4.5 km)
9.5 mph (15.3 km/h)
Cable Length – California St. plus non-revenue section on Hyde St.
21,700 ft (6,615 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 California Line
18.2% between Stockton St. and Grant Ave.