The 15-Third is back

White Brand Motor Coach 0359 at Ocean Division Bus Yard, Geneva and San Jose Avenues, May 2, 1962. SFMTA Archive. Note the wonderful message below the windshield, visible whenever the front advertising holder was empty.

Though not this exact bus. In a time when many of its well-established lines, including the F-Market historic streetcars (which carried more than 20,000 riders a day) are still suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muni is adding an entirely new route. No, wait. What they’re doing is reviving the well-known bus line known as the 15-Third, and setting it up kind of like a T-Express, to provide faster service downtown from the Hunters Point neighborhood and points along Third Street from the Bayview District through Dogpatch, Mission Bay, and the South of Market areas to Market Street.

Here’s the SFMTA announcement of the route, along g with its rationale for starting it up. They summarize it this way: “This community-designed route connects the hilly communities east of Third Street to Downtown and was chosen by residents who voted in a fall 2020 survey. The process and the route demonstrates our commitment to working with communities to provide equitable Muni service.”

15-line’s route starting January 23. The loop through Hunter’s Point wasn’t part of the original 15 bus.

Streetcars, ultimately run by our namesake Market Street Railway, provided service the length of Third Street until 1941 when buses replaced them. (Read the wonderful recollections of our late historian Phil Hoffman of the Third Street streetcar era, with great photos.)

BUSY BRIDGE— Third Street Car 961 is bound for Visitacion Valley, crossing the old Islais Creek Drawbridge, which it shared with both Southern Pacific and Santa Fe switch locomotives. Streetcars had only a few months left on Third Street in this mid- 1941 shot, but Muni’s huge Metro East light rail facility now sits just three blocks from this location, at center right. Tom Gray photo, MSR Archive.

When Muni took over in 1944, the 15-Third bus line became the workhorse of the east side of town, ultimately running from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way to the county line, then west to Geneva and Mission and later on to City College. But when a new sales tax for transit projects passed in 1988, residents in the Bayview lobbied hard for a light rail line to replace the 15-bus, saying other parts of town had rail service and they deserved it too. Muni agreed, and half a billion dollars later, the T-line opened in 2007 to replace the 15. (Another nearly two billion is being spent to extend the T-line under Fourth and Stockton Streets to Union Square and Chinatown, but that project, the Central Subway, won’t open until at least the end of next year, four years late.)

A 15-Third bus leads a pack of Macks up Third Street at Market, October 21, 1959. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive

The 15-line, now officially called the 15-Bayview Hunters Point Express, starts service January 23, the same day the T-line goes back to streetcars from the buses that have substituted for almost a year during the pandemic. On the SFMTA website story, there was one comment echoing long-running complaints that the T-line operates much slower than promised and that the old 15-bus was better. Guess we’ll find out starting January 23. And yes, they’ll be using new buses.

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Happy 108th Birthday, Muni!

December 28, 1912. Fifty thousand San Franciscans gathered at Market and Geary Streets. Was it a presidential visit? No, it was the transit equivalent of a late visit from Santa. It was a new streetcar line.

Mayor James Rolph, Jr. personally pilots Car No. 1 past Jones Street on Geary, December 28, 1912. San Francisco Public LIbrary photo.

But symbolically it was a lot more than that. For the ten locally-built gray and maroon streetcars that began running up and down the A-Geary line that day had letterboards on the side emblazoned in gold leaf “MUNICIPAL RAILWAY.” They were the first publicly owned streetcars in any major American city. San Franciscans turned out because they were proud of what their government had done.

In those days, private companies owned transit lines, which made a profit, even with a five-cent fare. They were awarded franchises from cities for the right to use the streets, lay down their tracks, and string their overhead wires. In San Francisco, this arrangement had led to significant corruption and the public was sick of it. So they approved a bond issue to purchase the obsolete Geary Street Cable Railroad and convert it to streetcars.

When Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph boarded Car No. 1, paid his fare (using one of the first 40 nickels produced by the San Francisco Mint less than three blocks away on Fifth Street), and personally took the controls for the ride out Geary, the crowd roared.

Now, 108 years later, Muni faces perhaps the most critical moment in its existence. Travel patterns that date back to the 19th century, focusing on connecting downtown employment and shopping with outlying neighborhoods, have been shattered by the pandemic, with no clear picture of how widespread and permanent the change to working and shopping from home will be.

We do believe that when the pandemic ebbs, tourism will return and help rejuvenate businesses from the Wharf to the Castro District, and we are advocating hard for the F-line to be reinstated to serve those businesses as well as the growing number of residents in new developments along Market Street. We would very much appreciate your support for our advocacy with a year-end tax-deductible donation or membership.

In whatever form Muni emerges from this cataclysmic event, its history as America’s first publicly owned big city transit system will endure — as will that very streetcar Mayor Rolph operated, Car No. 1 (above), which our advocacy helped get fully restored as Muni’s 100th birthday gift to itself in 1912. We can’t wait to see it carrying passengers on the street again — to celebrate the future reopening of the F-line!

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Final restored PCC back home

The last of 16 streamlined PCC streetcars completely rebuilt for Muni by Brookville Equipment Company was delivered to its owner today.

Car 1007 arriving at Muni Metro East. Matt Lee photo.

Car 1007 was built for Muni by St. Louis Car Company in 1948 and ran daily until it was retired in 1982. Our nonprofit successfully lobbied for it and the other surviving cars in the original class of ten cars to be preserved by Muni when it scrapped or sold many of its other 100+ PCCs. Our advocacy was spurred by the fact that these PCCs, known informally as “torpedoes”, have a higher passenger capacity than their slightly smaller siblings, and that they are double-ended, making them more flexible in operation, allowing for example the opening of the E-Embarcadero line, whose southern terminal at the Caltrain Depot can only be used by double-ended cars.

Car 1007 was one of three “torpedoes” (along with 1010 and 1015) restored as part of the original 1995 F-line fleet. It was originally painted in a livery meant to echo the then-new silver and red Breda LRVs. This livery, insisted upon by a Muni manager, was very unpopular and was soon painted over with a tribute livery to Philadelphia’s suburban “Red Arrow Lines”. That job represented a simplified version of the original “as-delivered” Red Arrow livery. For this renovation, Market Street Railway reached out to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, which owns beautifully restored Red Arrow Car 14. MSR Member Jack Demnyan, active in the Pennsylvania museum, served as a great liaison. Muni’s project manager Joseph Flores and PCC maintenance supervisor Kevin Sheridan were meticulous in working with Brookville’s team to get the details as close as possible to the original Red Arrow cars.

Red Arrow Car 14, fully restored, at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.
Note the car numbers on Car 1007, which faithfully use the unusual Red Arrow font.
Car 1007 in its first Red Arrow livery at Muni, in 2009. Kevin Mueller photo.
Car 1007 as it looked painted to reflect the new Muni livery seen on the Breda LRV in the background. Peter Ehrlich photo.

Car 1007 was on its way to San Francisco last month when it sustained slight cosmetic damage at a truck stop in Nebraska. It went back to Brookville for body work, and made it out this time without incident.

The delivery of Car 1007 completes the set of seven restored “torpedoes”. (The other four, Cars 1006, 1008, 1009, and 1011, were fully restored in 2010-11.) All seven torpedos have glass-enclosed cabs for the operators. These were installed to secure whichever of the two cabs in a car wasn’t in use, but with minor modifications can be effective protective barriers against the virus for operators. Market Street Railway is actively advocating with SFMTA leadership to put these cars in service soon, a subject we’ll discuss in a separate post.

Car 1007 after 1955, at 48th Avenue and Judah on the N-line, with rail grinder Car 0109. Greg King Collection.

Car 1007 will now have various electronic equipment installed, including fareboxes, radios, and security cameras by the Muni shops, which will then run the car for 1,000 miles without passengers to test all systems before formally accepting it from Brookville. The first of the three double-enders in this order, Car 1015, has finished its burn-in, while Car 1010 is just starting that process. Brookville still has one PCC, single-end Car 1056, painted to honor Kansas City, at its plant, undergoing warranty repairs.

Car 1007 at Pier 80 about 1994 being loaded for shipment to Morrison-Knudsen in Hornell, New York, for its first restoration. Peter Ehrlich photo.

We hope that by the time Muni finishes the burn-in of Car 1007, it will able to go right into service in resumed vintage streetcar operations.

One note to railfans who have followed the saga of two original Red Arrow cars acquired by Muni with the anticipation of adapting them to Muni’s system and restoring them: the need to move the trucks on those cars to allow them to clear certain Muni curves and to provide adequate room for operators with today’s requirements proved to be too expensive to undertake at this time. Accordingly, Car 1007 received the Red Arrow tribute livery to keep this famed operation visible in San Francisco. Should either or both of those cars be restored in the future, we would request them to be painted in the Red Arrow livery, with 1007 moving on to a different livery.

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Unique gifts for SF transit fans

Our online store is the place to get transit-related San Francisco gifts you can’t find anywhere else. And with our physical museum across from the Ferry Building closed by the pandemic, the online store is the ONLY place to find these unique items.

Take a look at the wonderful array of gifts for everyone on your list. Big or small, we have it all, from apparel and books to cute little stocking stuffers! Don’t hesitate – we have a limited supply of some items. We will ship your purchases within 48 hours of receiving your order, but we can’t guarantee delivery by Christmas if you order after December 10.

For the kids, check out our tees, toys, books, puzzles, placemats, patches and more. Just added to our offerings is the (Brio compatible) F-line Pacific Electric PCC streetcar toy, one of the most popular liveries of the F-line cars. Kids love stickers, and we’ve got the cutest ones of the historic streetcars, with art by Chris Arvin.

If the kids are Giants fans, don’t pass up the Giants engine and boxcar (also Brio compatible), and the 100-piece ballpark puzzle. Of course, our 300-piece fleet poster puzzle is also a must!

For the puzzlers who left their hearts in San Francisco, we have a challenging 1,000-piece street map puzzle, a 1,000-piece SF cityscape puzzle, the 300-piece F-line Fleet puzzle mentioned above, and a fun 100-piece magnetic city map puzzle for your fridge door.

Don’t forget our unique line of Historic Travel Series mugs, totes, coasters and matted prints that evoke the travel posters of yesterday, and celebrate the San Francisco’s F-line “museums in motion” of today (image above).

For the transit fan in your life, check out our beautifully crafted original Cable Car rail plaques, created by the late Don McKinsey just for us. Not many left, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. We also have genuine slices of 1880s cable car rail at a tiny fraction of the price a for-profit company is offering them. We also have a limited supply of the St. Louis Car Co. builder’s plate (visible up front on the classic PCC cars of the F-line), and a small number of the Market Street Railway Company White Front plates, both plates made from original castings, and a small number of replica Jewett Car Company builders plate recreated in 2014 for the restoration of Muni Car 162.

Though the cable cars aren’t running in the pandemic, you can keep them top of mind this holiday season on your tree with handcrafted ornaments, like this one, Santa astride a cable car, just like used to happen in real life in the 1950s. Another way to keep vintage transit in view is with one of these sensational colorful framed art pieces, signed by San Francisco artist Mike Sanchez, celebrating vintage streetcars including the PCCs (below), Muni’s famed Car 1, and the Milan trams. We also offer four different black & white matted prints of old San Francisco’s Market Street.

We also have a wide array of lapel pins and magnets showcasing the varied liveries of our fleet.

For the reader, look for Paul Bignardi’s Fleet History of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, Peter Ehrlich’s San Francisco’s F-Line, Angelo Figone’s Northwestern Pacific Railroad, and Doug Meriwether’s trilogy of the daily life at the controls of a Muni trolley coach, starting with Finding Zen in San Francisco Transit. These authors, all Market Street Railway members and current or retired Muni employees, offer the reader firsthand knowledge of their subject.  On Track, A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Historic Streetcars and Cable Cars by MSR president Rick Laubscher, is the go-to book for information on the vehicles in the fleet and an excellent addition to any reference library.

For the San Francisco history buff we offer a multitude of choices from Arcadia’s softbound publications to the hardbound and scholarly San Francisco Lithographer by Robert Chandler, The State Belt by William Kaufman, and Don Jewell’s California Trolleys. A Negotiated Landscape by Jasper Rubin documents the dramatic changes to San Francisco’s waterfront since the 1950s. You can browse all these book selections here. And check out hard-to-find DVDs of traction action and old San Francisco here.

In our apparel section, you will find a wide selection of unique caps, beanies, hoodies and tees with Boston, Chicago and Australia getting special attention in our new line celebrating the cars on the F-line. Many of these items come is a variety of sizes, colors and styles to meet your needs. Our special line of “Information gladly given but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation“ products includes a selection of tees, magnets, mugs, stickers and, of course, face masks. There are many unique Muni logo items available as well.

Don’t forget to pick up our “Museums in Motion” 2021 calendar where you can enjoy our marvelous array of historic streetcars every day of the year, professionally photographed by our own member photographers.

Until December 31, Market Street Railway members get 25% off on everything. If you’re not a current member, it’s the perfect time to join, and support us in our advocacy to return the F-line historic streetcars and cable cars to service as soon as safely possible.

Discount details: through December 31, enrolled dues-paying Market Street Railway members get 25% off all merchandise. Just enter the code thanks25 on your shopping cart page before checking out. Please, Market Street Railway members only. We do check. But hey, you can potentially save more than the price of our basic membership ($45/year) if you join before you shop. SFMTA employees (only) can always get a 10% discount by using the code munidiscount10 on their cart page.

Our quarterly magazine, just for members

Members receive our award-winning full color Inside Track magazine four times a year, with inside info on what’s going on with the historic streetcars and cable cars, plus fascinating and entertaining articles on San Francisco’s transit history. And members always receive at least 10% off their purchases both online and at our museum gift shop when we re-open. To thank and honor the front-line folks who keep San Francisco moving through this pandemic, all SFMTA employees get 10% off everything, all the time.

Again, if you’re not a member of Market Street Railway, you can join now to take advantage of the 25% shopping discount through December 31.

Please remember that all proceeds from sales from our online store go toward bringing back the historic streetcars on Market Street. The F-line is not operating due to Covid-19 and its future is actually in some doubt. We are leading the advocacy for the return of the streetcars and cable cars. Your purchases help us do that, as do donations to Market Street Railway. Please consider giving us your year-end tax-deductible support. Thanks.

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Market Street 1932: Wowza!

Market Street, in color, in 1932, when essentially all film was black and white. And not just static, like the photo above, but in full and glorious rumble. Click the video below and prepare to get lost in the past for the next four minutes. This trip up Market Street between the Ferry and Grant Avenue was original actual black and white motion picture footage that our friend Rick Prelinger, founder of Prelinger Archives, turned us onto several years ago.… — Read More

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Uncovering Cal Cable’s past

Constructing a new form of transportation for San Francisco, workers uncovered an old one the other day. Contractors building the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project scraped away asphalt to find the vertical curve of the original California Street cable car line bending westward and upward towards Franklin Street. Below, that same block, with a cable car descending the hill on this same track, before the Cal line was savagely cut in half on December 30, 1956 (a dark… — Read More

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What might have been: Geary

Editors Note: An early version of this article appeared in a past issue of Inside Track, our member magazine with exclusive stories and inside information about Muni’s historic streetcars and cable cars. Click here to become a member and receive it. Geary was Muni’s first “backbone”. It is still easily its busiest corridor, operated now with buses longer than it was with streetcars. By any transit measure, its ridership justifies rail service on Geary, including a subway through at least… — Read More

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Cable car on display at Powell & Market

There’s a familiar sound at the Powell and Market cable car turntable, at least some of the time. Thanks to the initiative of the Union Square Business Improvement District and the support of SFMTA chief Jeffrey Tumlin, a Powell cable car will be on the ‘table every Tuesday , Thursday, and Saturday for at least several weeks, probably through the holiday season. Covid-19 restrictions have put the cables out of service indefinitely, but at least this is a way to… — Read More

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F-line 25th anniversary merch!

With San Francisco’s historic streetcars still shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we can’t take an actual ride to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the permanent F-Market line, but we can get some virtual thrills with these two new merchandise items, designed by Chris Arvin. Above, a poster with Chris’s iconic, er, icons that playfully visualize some of Muni’s historic streetcar fleet. Below, a pin featuring a PCC in original Muni livery. These and an ever growing number of… — Read More

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F-line’s 25th anniversary

On September 1, 1995, a parade of vintage streetcars rumbled westward on Market Street, led by the wildly popular Boat Tram 228, to officially inaugurate the permanent F-Market streetcar line (extended in 2000 to become the F-Market & Wharves).  Right from that opening day, the F-line, inspired by the success of the summer Trolley Festivals of the 1980s, opened, it was overwhelmed with riders, far outstripping Muni’s predictions. Many Upper Market residents preferred the clean, upholstered vintage PCC streetcars, with… — Read More

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When Heritage Weekend got a gift from us

Sadly, Covid-19 caused cancellation of the 2020 Muni Heritage Weekend, but we can still look back. The first actual Heritage Weekend was in 2013, an outgrowth of the 2012 Muni Centennial Weekend. And Market Street Railway made sure it kicked off with a bang, delivering a second Blackpool Boat Tram to Muni all the way from England, thanks to the generous support of the Thoresen Foundation and shipping help from FedEx. We took some video of both the inspection and… — Read More

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