If you’re a Market Street Railway Member at $100 or more in annual support, don’t worry, we’ll be mailing you your complimentary calendar before the end of November. If you’re not yet a member at that level, you can join here (either $100+ annually or $10/month) and get your complimentary calendar.
We didn’t print a large number of these, so don’t wait to purchase one..
On this Labor Day, we honor all vintage transit operators in San Francisco by sharing this story from our Member magazine, Inside Track, published in early 2020.Our nonprofit continues to advocate for more F-line service and restoration of the E-Embarcadero line, along with resumed service by vintage streetcars including the Melbourne and Brussels/Zurich trams pictured here.
Operating transit vehicles is a challenging job, in any environment. Right now, it’s more challenging than ever in San Francisco, given justified concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus along with all the other issues they encounter every day. So, as part of our year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of the permanent F-line, we’d like to give a shout out to three current E- and F-line operators, some of the many who show love for the vintage streetcars and offer their riders great service.
Aleena joined Muni in 1995, the year the permanent F-line opened, so she’s celebrating her 25th anniversary this year too. She’s passionate about the historic streetcars in general and the E-line, her current route, in particular. Her favorite car to operate, by far: Melbourne 496. Whenever she can get a conductor, she brings the Australian car from Cameron Beach Yard to the waterfront to delight riders. “It’s very durable, number one. It does what you tell it to do. I like the woodwork inside the car, the fact that it’s open and breezy, I like talking to people about the car,” she says. “I’m a people person, so I like being the conductor as well as the motorman. When I’m in a chilling mood, I’m driving, when I’m in a talkative mood, I’m in the back with my megaphone,” she adds with a laugh.
A native San Franciscan, she applied for several civil service positions out of school, passing tests for the police, sheriff’s and fire departments, “but Muni came through first”, she recalls. She first became enamored of trolley coaches, “because they don’t pollute the air,” and operated them for 20 years before moving over to the vintage streetcars. She has been an official of Transport Workers Union Local 250A and continues to serve on safety committees.
Aleena is known for giving detailed announcements to her riders, especially important on the E-line because many riders who board at the Wharf end of the line aren’t aware E cars don’t go up Market Street. On a recent trip aboard one of the double-end PCCs, she gave very clear and cheerful instructions to riders as the car approached the Ferry Building stop, about how to catch an F-line car up Market, and where her car was headed.“Communication is the key for passengers to get from point A to B, and it’s also the key to making the system work, when you’re talking to supervisors or managers. It’s very important, and people tend to forget that. And how you talk to people is very important.” she notes.
Aleena pointed out several areas where the E-line could be improved. For example, she reminded us how long it has taken to get informational signage on the N/T line high platforms south of Market, telling people where to go to catch the E. “I see people waving at me from the high platform, wanting to go up toward the Wharf, but I’m already past the E-line stop. All I can do is just point them in the right direction and tell them to wait for the next E.” (We have been trying to get that signage up for four years, and a test sign recently went up at the Caltrain N-line platform, but Aleena inspired us to follow up, once again, directly with Jeff Tumlin and Julie Kirschbaum. Literally the next day, temporary E-line directional signs appeared on the other high-level platforms along The Embarcadero.”) She made several other practical observations, which we are following up on.
Aleena believes the E-line is extra special: “One other thing I like about the vintage cars is getting to go along the waterfront. It’s just so calming; every day, I’m like ‘I get to do this?’ I just love it.”
In his always-impeccable uniform and a variety of hats to match the weather, Mike Delia makes the PCC he operates look even more like a time machine. And he went out of his way to make that happen. “I’m from Boston; I was a transit operator there, and I moved here to work for Muni,” he says. “I wanted to drive all the ‘old stuff’ and I’m happy that I landed here and Muni gave me the chance to do it.” He put in his time on buses to gain adequate seniority, “and now I’m on the F-line every day, and I’m thankful for that. It’s unique. I wouldn’t drive anything else at this this point.”
The operator known to many peers and riders as “Mr. Boston” knows his adopted city well. “This is Kearny and Geary and Third Street. Buses to Chinatown and the Avenues,” Mike calls out over the car’s public address system. One thing that distinguishes Mike is his stop announcements, made in his native BAH-stin accent. “The thing about the automated announcement is that every intersection on Market Street is three streets, but they only call out two streets, and they don’t call out transfers, or points of interest, so it helps to have that added information, I think,” he says. (It’s worth noting that Mike’s Boston pronunciation of MAH-kit Street matches the way it was pronounced 80-100 years ago here, possibly because of the large Irish immigrant population in each city then.)He calls himself fortunate to have a lot of regular riders on his run, and enjoys interacting with them, even though at times it’s a “mixed blessing”. “There’s always going to be some of them that love ya; there’s always going to be some that can’t stand ya. But I’m thankful and blessed to have a good following. Your passengers can look out for you. And they do.”
Mike is aware of the importance of the F-line to businesses along the route. “I have a special fondness for the Castro neighborhood because I’m friendly with quite a few of the business owners there. Like the coffee shops, the deli, I go in there every day, so they’re like fixtures to me. And the residents of the Castro, they certainly appreciate the F-line and what it does, so I’m thankful for that, too.” Mike has also developed a rapport with the beat cops that walk the Castro, who have offered him assistance on a few occasions. “I’m pleased to say we look out for each other, and that’s a step in the right direction – one civil servant helping another.”
Mike loves greeting visitors from other cities, especially railfans. “You can tell what a railfan looks like, right? I’ll ask them, where are you from, you got any questions about the cars, and I thought I knew a lot, some of them know a lot more than me. You try to make it fun for them, the kids especially. Little kids love trains, and if we’re stopped somewhere in a safe location, I might ask them, ‘Hey you want to ring the bell?’ That always makes a little kid’s day.”
Perhaps his greatest experience with a kid came when a family boarded his car, obviously having a trying morning. Turns out they were in San Francisco from New Jersey on a Make-A-Wish Foundation trip for their son. By coincidence, Mike was operating Car 1070, an ex-Newark streetcar in its original livery. He pointed this out and they perked up. He let the boy ring the gong and open the doors at several stops, and it made that family’s day.
Of course, he regularly meets riders from all over the world and often hears from Italians and Australians looking for their trams. “It can be culturally broadening to work on the F-line because you meet all these different people.”
As might be guessed, his favorite PCC is Car 1059, wearing the tangerine and silver Boston Elevated Railway livery. And discreetly tucked away on that car’s interior is a little sticker, saying “Boston Strong!” Just like “Mr. Boston”.
David has been with Muni 21 years. Another native San Franciscan and resident, he loves operating the Brussels car. “It’s very smooth. It’s like a Cadillac instead of a Volkswagen. It’s a unique piece of equipment. And I like the unusual. David’s seniority allows him to choose what was, at the time of the interview, the only pull-out, pull-in run on the F-line schedule, “so I get to operate the special equipment I’m qualified to do”. (On this run, the same operator takes the car from the carbarn, operates it for their shift, and brings it back to the barn. Other F-line runs change operators in front of our museum during the day, allowing the car itself to stay on the line for two operator shifts. We’re told there will be more pull-in, pull-out runs coming to the F-line this summer.)
“Most of your operators on the F-line are good operators. That’s the positive, because you’re working around people who enjoy what they do. They’re willing to work with each other and they’re willing to help each other. That makes you more at ease. And our support team, the mechanics, they’re willing to talk to you when you pull in, and when you’re out on the road, and that helps them repair things that we see as a constant problem every day.” David also gives a shout-out to our museum staff as a resource he can send his riders to with questions, and for the things they do to support the operators. He calls out the museum every time he announces the Steuart Street F-line stop.
Like the other operators we profile here, and the many we’ve talked with on the line, their personal security while operating is an issue to David. All would like to see a more visible presence from uniformed San Francisco Police officers, in exchange for the millions of dollars Muni pays the SFPD for security services every year.
As for what David would like to see in the future? “More use of the cars we don’t get to see often. Bring back the historical operations we used to have where we had vintage cars on the E-line all day, like Car 1 and others.”
We agree, David, and we’re working on it.
Thanks to all the operators who make Muni’s vintage streetcars and cable cars even more special. If you have a favorite operator, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to our historian, the redoubtable Emiliano Echeverria, 125 years ago, August 10, 1896 (give or take a day), a new streetcar was delivered for service in San Francisco. Streetcars themselves had only become a viable transit technology eight years before in Richmond, Virginia. San Francisco had opened its first streetcar line only four years earlier, in 1892, but transit companies led by Market Street Railway Company were busy already, replacing some cable car lines with streetcars and building new lines with the electric vehicles.
The first streetcars that appeared in San Francisco looked a lot like cable cars, except for the trolley pole on the roof that conducted electricity from the overhead wire. That wasn’t surprising. The standard cable car design of the time, the “California Car” (named after the California Street cable car design still used today), was popular with riders, with open end sections and a closed center section. And many of the early San Francisco streetcars were built by cable car builders.
That new streetcar delivered in August 1896 still operates today. Built by Hammond, which later built today’s fleet of California Street cable cars, No. 578 is the oldest passenger transit vehicle in America still on the operating roster of a public transit agency. It survived because it was turned into a work car after the 1906 earthquake and was kept around in that capacity before being restored by Muni’s crafts workers for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the earthquake in 1956. It was then going to be put on static display at a proposed railroad museum across from the Hyde Street Pier, but when that fell through, it went back to Muni for a time and was then loaned to the Western Railway Museum in Solano County.
The Historic Trolley Festivals of the 1980s, spearheaded by leaders of Market Street Railway, saw Car 578 brought home to carry passengers occasionally on its home city’s rails. Known affectionately by its many fans as the “Dinky” for its compact size, Car 578 has been wildly popular during the annual Muni Heritage Weekends (pictured below) that ran for eight years before the pandemic and we hope will resume in 2022.
We’re going to run a special feature to celebrate Car 578‘s 125th birthday in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, with many more historic photos of this patriarch of San Francisco’s streetcar fleet.Join Market Street Railway now so you don’t miss it!
In the early morning hours of August 2, 1873, Andrew Hallidie personally piloted his invention, the street cable car, over a precipice on Clay Street and launched a new era in street railroads. (There’s a free Zoom event August 2 at 6 p.m. talking about the cable cars and Hallidie. Details at the bottom of the post.)
Exactly 148 years and eight hours after Hallidie’s first trip, Mayor London Breed and SFMTA head Jeffrey Tumlin will preside over the rebirth of the city’s famed cable cars. The ceremony, at 10 a.m. at the Powell and Market cable car turntable, is the official re-start of the venerated system.
The little cars have actually been trundling around the system for several weeks now, retraining crews and testing after being shut down since April 2020 by the pandemic. But starting August 2, passengers will be allowed on the cars for the first time. And they’ll ride free for the entire month of August.
Caveat, though. SFMTA (Muni) says “we will test the system by inviting passengers aboard for the duration of a “mock service” trial, riding the lines where cable cars are operating and making stops. This mock service will be irregular, not following a particular schedule, as we work out any kinks in the system that might arise.”
That means you could wait awhile for a cable car to depart the terminal (but hey, wasn’t that standard operating procedure before the pandemic…a story we’ll be watching as the recovery proceeds). Also, with lots of folks wanting free rides, there could be long lines. (When Muni starts collecting fares in September, a family of four will pay $64 for a round-trip to Fisherman’s Wharf from Powell and Market, versus $12 or less for an F-line streetcar round-trip (after August 15, when all Muni services except cable cars become free for those under 18).)
Our unofficial advice: take advantage of August and minimize possible wait times for cable cars by riding early in the day (cable cars and F-line streetcars will both operate between about 7:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily), and perhaps riding the F-line to the Wharf and then taking a Powell cable car back downtown from one of the outer terminals (Hyde & Beach Sts. or Bay & Taylor Sts.). Or take the very under-rated California line from California & Market with the morning sun at your back up through the canyon of the Financial District, past the heart of Chinatown, and over Nob Hill.
Whatever you do, if you’re in town in August, be sure to enjoy the cable cars. And bring your mask. They’re still required on all public transit vehicles.
The venerable Mechanics’ Institute, with which Hallidie was associated, is hosting a free virtual event via Zoom at 6 p.m. on August 2, with MSR President Rick Laubscher and Mechanics’ Institute historian Taryn Edwards in conversation with author and podcaster Matthew Félix. Details and signup here.
F-line streetcars will operate almost twice as long every day, from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., starting Saturday, June 26. This represents a huge expansion of the eight-hour-a-day service schedule implemented when the F-line returned to service on May 15, following a 13-month pandemic-caused absence. The vintage streetcars have been very popular since their return, with service that started around midday and ended before sunset. The expanded hours will allow many more San Franciscans and visitors to enjoy the service… — Read More
Our dual vintage streetcar popularity contests have yielded two ‘winners’, though in fact every one of the 32 streetcars in the polls put together by our board member, Chris Arvin, drew love from fans of historic transit from around the world. The same “brackets” of 32 streetcars were set up on our Twitter account and on our Facebook group. The winner of each first-round matchup advanced to the second round, until we had two finalists. In both polls, the finals… — Read More
So we’ve been running a fun little contest on our Twitter account and our Facebook group. It’s an idea from our board member Chris Arvin to let people pick their “fan favorite streetcar” – however each person wants to define “favorite”. It was set up as an NCAA-style bracket, where you start with 32 teams, er, streetcars, and pit them against each other in pairs, where the one receiving the most votes in each matchup moves on to the next… — Read More
Transit workers are our nation’s frontline warriors for urban mobility. And their workplace can be dangerous, with maintenance workers handling heavy machinery and large moving vehicles and operators facing traffic and, increasingly, unhinged and sometimes violent passengers. But what happened in San Jose yesterday morning at the Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard is another dimension entirely. Words fail us at the horror, so we will let President Biden say it for us. There are at least eight families [now… — Read More
Smiles are breaking out along the city’s waterfront and along Market Street, as Muni’s vintage streetcars are out in force for the first time in more than a year. The F-line is running a full test schedule, including pull-outs and pull-ins along the J-Church line, in advance of the official reopening of the line for passenger service on May 15. Initial service will run seven days a week, but just eight hours a day (11 am-7 pm) initially, running the… — Read More
People all around the world love San Francisco’s vintage streetcars…and now you can vote for your favorite no matter where you are. Our board member Chris Arvin has put together brackets on Facebook and Twitter to make it easy and fun. It’s part of our continuing celebration to welcome back F-line streetcar service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Castro, which resumes May 15. Fans know that Muni has streetcars from all over the world. Many are unique streetcars more than 90… — Read More
April 18, 1906, a date forever seared into San Francisco history. The cataclysmic earthquake and fire divided eras and impressed unforgettable memories on all who experienced it. All who experienced that horror firsthand are gone now. But by unbelievable good fortune, a compelling vision of the old San Francisco survives in the form of a motion picture, and the knowledge it provides us of the way it was keeps growing. Sunday afternoon, April 18, 2021, 115 years to the day… — Read More