Great Kickoff to Heritage Weekend

Mayor London Breed (Center, in blue) leads the ribbon cutting that returned cable car “Big 19”, originally built in 1883, back to Muni’s active fleet after a hiatus of 77 years. She was joined by SFMTA Board Vice Chair Gwyneth Borden (second from right) and the team from Cable Car Division responsible for this miraculous resurrection.

Muni Heritage Weekend got off to a great start last night (Thursday), with a VIP reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum. Upwards of 70 invited business, neighborhood, and civic leaders heard Mayor London Breed extol San Francisco’s history and the role transit played in making the city what it is today. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher paid tribute to transit pioneers through the decades, whom he described as “fighters for equality, for inclusion, for opportunity”, and lauded the team that brought Sacramento-Clay Cable Car 19 back to life. They include: Project Manager Arne Hansen, the shop superintendent; Electric Transit Mechanic Dave Kerrigan, who installed a complete braking system, Master Carpenter Antoni Cunha, who repaired and strengthened the running boards; Painters Danny Hicks and Henry Pegueros, who did a masterful job of painting, polishing the brass, and detailing the cable car.

Mayor Breed addressing the gathering at the museum. MSR Board Vice Chair Antone Sabella (just to her right) looks on.

That group, and the other guests, then processed from the museum two blocks to California and Market Streets, where “Big 19” was staged on the tail track of the California Street cable car line, ready to go. After a ribbon cutting, featuring Mayor Breed, SFMTA Vice Chair Gwyneth Borden, and the car’s restoration crew, Gripman Val Lupiz, whose personal enthusiasm for the project made a big difference in moving it forward, er, moved the car forward … up California Street, “halfway to the stars”, as the song lyric goes with the Mayor and a packed car of guests happily taking it in.

MSR Board Chair Carmen Clark stands in the grip man’s position aboard Big 19, with the restoration team in front of the car, along with MSR Board Member James Giraudo (far left), who contributed the accurate 46-star American flags for the car (commemorating the 1908 date it started working the Sacramento-Clay line), along with the two Cable Car Division superintendents who greenlighted the project: Brent Jones, now acting deputy director of transit for SFMTA, to the right of the shiny brass headlight, and Wes Valaris to the left of the headlight (in hat), current acting super at Cable Car.

Climbing Nob Hill with a crush load is just about the ultimate test for Big 19, and under Val’s expert hand, it went flawlessly. The Mayor had to disembark at Grace Cathedral for her next engagement…clearly reluctantly, asking to ride at least one more block…and the rest of the guests proceeded to Van Ness, where “Big 19” reversed smoothly.

Gripman Val Lupiz waits for a signal to change as Mayor Breed (over his shoulder) enjoys the ride. Former MSR Board Chair Bruce Agid looks toward the mayor from the far running board.

But then the Cable Car Gods said, “Not so fast”. One block into the return trip, another cable car hit a bumper bar on the California cable, causing the cable to automatically shut down. When this happens, the cable machinery crew carefully winds the entire cable all the way through its length, inspecting it as it goes through the winding machinery at the carbarn to ensure it wasn’t damaged. If it is, the line can be shut down for hours.

And so, guests on this memorable inaugural run of Big 19 got an unexpected experience: one of Muni’s brand new hybrid buses appeared to take them back to the museum, making them the first to make that round trip on transit vehicles built 136 apart.

One more shot of Val Lupiz, on his new favorite cable car. Those who are part of our Facebook group, (Market Street Railway) know Val as a devoted cable car historian whose dedication and enthusiasm has helped both Big 19 and O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Car 42 spend time on the streets.

Later, the cable was found to be fine, and Big 19 returned to the Cable Car Barn without incident. It will be out and running on Heritage Weekend with a VERY special treat starting at 10 a.m. for those who show up at the Cable Car Barn at Washington and Mason Streets: on its pull-out trip, it will go down the Hyde Street Hill to Aquatic Park, then back up Hyde, around the Washington-Jackson loop, and then over to California Street to go into service. At Heritage Weekend Central Control (the plaza outside the museum), we’ll keep track of where Big 19 is, so visitors can catch one of its several trips from California and Market to Van Ness and back.

That’s just one aspect of what’s going to be a great Heritage Weekend. Don’t miss it.

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Variety of Visitors at our Museum

The San Francisco Railway Museum welcomes a wide variety of visitors, some curious about what we do, some well versed on the subject, and some with a specific purpose.

Among our recent visitors was a group of artists called Urban Sketchers: San Francisco Bay Area,who spent a couple of hours making illustrations of scenes in the museum, two of which you can see on their website. Lovely renderings of our old time transportation artifacts.

Visiting the museum on a regular basis in the rainy season is the local group Walking in San Francisco For Health and History. Their tours on rainy days consist of visits to 6 different free museums in the downtown area over a 6 hour period. The schedule for their walking tours of San Francisco historical sites and including its movie history, can be found here.

Members of the Elsewhere Philatelic Society frequently drop by to visit and pick up their highly prized stamp to add to their passports. For more information about this creative, artistic and mysterious group, check out their website.

School groups of all ages often visit. Students in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes find answers in the museum to the transit questions on their worksheets, and practice their new language by asking related questions of the museum staff. Grade school groups learn the difference between streetcars, cable cars and buses, and the basics of how electric traction works. Needless to say, the high point of their visit is playing operator and conductor in the recreated 1911 streetcar platform in the back of the museum. Bell-ringing is encouraged!

As a team building activity, a number of companies in the neighborhood will occasionally hold a scavenger hunt with our museum holding one of the clues. Small groups come in and comb the space looking for the answer to their quest, often enlisting staff for photos or historical help in solving their puzzle. 

Senior groups arrive at the museum eager to relive a part of their lives long gone – the San Francisco of their youth – venues and landmarks seen on film, in exhibits and in our display cases. We show them how the motorman and conductor operated the streetcars of the early 20thcentury in our streetcar platform, share with them the history and a demonstration of the first traffic signal in use in San Francisco in the 1920s, and show videos of the recreational destinations of yesterday and the streetcars that got you there.

For group visits, we ask that you call ahead so we can have adequate staff available, and are able to provide your group with a quality tour. The museum number is 415/974-1948.

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