Unique gifts will wow transit fans

Our online store has a wider selection of unique transit-related gifts than ever. And through December 6, 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. And 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.

Discount details: through December 6, 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.

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.

To add to your or a friend’s wall, we have a small number of sensational colorful framed art pieces, signed by San Francisco artist Mike Sanchez, celebrating vintage streetcars including the PCCs (above), 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.

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. 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.

We also have a wide array of lapel pins and magnets showcasing the varied liveries of our fleet. And a limited number of transit- and San Francisco-themed holiday tree ornaments as well.

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.

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 6. 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.

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. Rick says it was obviously shot for use in a movie where it would be projected behind actors in a car on a sound stage, to make it look like they were driving up Market Street (though Rick says he’s never found a commercial film it appeared in). The color has been automatically added by a YouTube user who identifies himself as NASS. He uses digital tools called neural networks that use artificial intelligence to make old film look fresh. Not just colorizing, but sharpening and smoothing the images. Here’s the black and white original, which starts just a tad earlier on the Ferry Loop with a delicious glimpse of a Sacramento-Clay cable car at its terminal (could it be Big 19??). (Both versions include a random 15 seconds of a parade passing Stockton and Market at the end, nerd-notable for the little-used switch from the terminal of Muni’s F-Stockton streetcar line onto the outbound Muni track on Market.)

Further nerd alert: you can tell the AI-aided colorization isn’t perfect. For one thing, the auto license plates (see still frame below) show as white, but California didn’t issue white plates in this era. A check of this great Wikipedia page, though, along with blowups of still frames, confirms the year as 1932, when the plates were actually yellow. (The yellow parking signs and Wiley “Birdcage” signals also generally read as white here). Also, as seen in the photo at the top of this post, both the Muni and Market Street Railway cars appear to have gray window sash, though in 1932, both companies had red sash (the total White Fronts, sash and all, came a few years later).

Purists, feel free to rant in the comments, but for those of us not yet born in 1932 (meaning less than 88 years old), the colorized version is a lively partner to the original, though in our view better listened to with the sound off. The film was shot as silent, and the fellow who added the SFX clearly doesn’t know what streetcar gongs sound like (hint, not like the whistle of the Blackpool boat trams).

We saw this colorized version a couple of weeks ago, but got beaten to the publishing punch with this article at sfist.com. Well worth checking it out; it will send you down a (colorized) rabbit hole, not only with this film, but more technical details and other colorized films including the famed Miles’ Brothers Trip Down Market Street, shot just days before the 1906 earthquake (below).

One other thing about these altered vintage films. Though the upscaling and colorization are interesting technological achievements, they don’t add any context to what you’re seeing. Read through the comments on YouTube about these kind of films and you’ll find a lot of guessing and misinformation. That’s why we created the only fully-narrated version of the Miles Brothers’ film, explaining where you are and what you see on every block. You can watch our narrated version here, or purchase a DVD exclusively at our online store for your very own.

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Keeping the streetcars ready

“Bumblebee” Car 1057, painted in tribute to Cincinnati, with Cable Car 13 on display at the Powell turntable behind it. Matt Lee photo.

They’re not back yet. At least not for passengers. But the streetcars in Muni’s historic fleet are at least more visible these days where they belong: on the streets of San Francisco.

1928 Milan Tram 1815 on San Jose Avenue near Dolores Street. Jeremy Whiteman photo.

Muni’s F-line and E-line streetcars have been sidelined for nine months now, victims of the Covid-19-related collapse of Muni ridership. But electric vehicles need exercise to stay in good condition. Streetcars just back from outside contractors or inside maintenance have to be tested. And operators have to be trained or retrained for the day passenger service resumes. (No date set for that yet; Muni still has to install protective plexiglass shields between the operator’s cab and the passenger area. Boston and Philadelphia are already doing this; we have asked Muni leadership again to make this a priority.)

PCC Car 1071 (in its original 1946 Minneapolis-St. Paul livery) at Pier 39. Robert Parks photo.

In the meantime, we can at least get a look some of the colorful cars back on the street during the past 30 days, thanks to sharp-eyed photographers who’ve posted to our Facebook group.

Philadelphia Car 1055, in its original livery, on Market at Powell. Val Lupiz photo.
PCC Car 1059, in its tribute livery honoring Boston Elevated Railway, on Market at Powell. Val Lupiz photo.
PCC Car 1051, painted in Muni’s 1960s simplified livery and dedicated to Harvey Milk, at the Ferry Building. Jeremy Whiteman photo.
1934 Blackpool, England “Boat Tram” 228 at 30th and Church Streets. Michael Strauch photo.
Original 1948 Muni double-end PCC 1006 at 20th and Church. Matt Lee photo.
Another shot of “Bumblebee” Cincinnati Car 1057. turning onto Noe from Market. Lane Bourn photo.
1928 Melbourne tram 496 at Market and Drumm. Daniel Catalan photo.
Philadelphia PCC 1060, wearing that city’s 1938 “Philly Cream Cheese” livery, on the J-line at 18th and Church Streets. Matt Lee photo.
Training new trainers on San Francisco’s oldest streetcar, 1896 “Dinky” 578, on 30th Street at Church. Jeremy Whiteman photo.
Double-end PCC 1015, in Illinois Terminal Railway tribute livery, takes the crossover at Day and Church Streets during burn-in following its return from rebuilding at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. Jeremy Whiteman photo.

While you can’t ride these streetcars again just yet, you can have them with you every day. Our online store offers all of these cars’ images — and the others in Muni’s historic fleet as well — on magnets or enamel pins. You can see all of them together on our streetcar fleet poster and placemat. And of course, there are 13 full color 10×14″ images of historic streetcars and cable cars in our 2021 “Museums in Motion” calendar.

All purchases at our online store support our nonprofit’s efforts to get the streetcars carrying passengers again as soon as possible.

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Uncovering Cal Cable’s past

Uncovered Cal Cable track looking east on California at Van Ness, October 2020. Joseph Macasocol photo.

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 time indeed, coming within hours of the last run by B-Geary streetcars).

Looking east from Franklin Street on California Street toward the current California line terminal at Van Ness Avenue, 1954. Walt Vielbaum photo, MSR Archive.

The California Street cable line originally used a grip that closed on the cable (like pliers) from the side, unlike the top grip now used on all lines. That required the cable slot to be off-center about three inches, as shown in Dennis Roybal’s photo below. The surviving part of the Cal line, from Van Ness to Market, had to have its slot moved during 1957, so that all operations could be consolidated at the Washington-Mason cable car barn and powerhouse. (The old Cal line’s private owner had a powerhouse and car barn at Hyde and California, where Trader Joe’s is now. Read our story, “When politics & dirty tricks savaged our cable cars”, with lots of photos.)

In the photos, also note the Belgian block (like cobblestones, but rectangular) that was fitted by skilled workers between the rails of the old installation. This was the standard paving material for San Francisco streets at the turn of the 20th century, and was also used to line the outside of Muni’s original streetcar track installations. Market Street Railway successfully advocated for the last remnant of this original track installation, on the L-Taraval spur between 46th and 48th Avenues, to be preserved.

When streetcar and cable car lines were replaced by buses, sometimes the tracks were physically ripped out and sometimes they were just paved over. It depended on what the cost might be and how much time it would take. Some streetcar lines, like the 31-Balboa and the C-Geary-California in the Richmond District still have the tracks under the asphalt. The 40-San Mateo interurban line paved over (or planted grassy medians above) all its trackage through Colma after that line was discontinued in 1949. Some of it remained visible at intersections until just a few years ago.

Cable car tracks were more work to remove, because besides the rails that the cars’ wheels rode on, there was a beefy underground “yoke” that protected the cable itself, with a slot on top for the cable car’s grip to reach the cable.

This is hardly the first example of uncovered street railway trackage in San Francisco, although it has become less frequent as old sewers and other underground infrastructure have been replaced over the decades. A member of our Facebook group posted this memory:

When the PG&E dug up the tracks at Scott & California a few years back I was sent out to look it over. The PG&E foreman said “Watch this.” He reached down into the excavated section, grabbed the carrier pulley and spun it. It whipped around for over 30 seconds before stopping. “How long has that been buried?” he asked. I answered “Over 50 years, but the track gang was probably lubing it right up to the last day, hoping for a reprieve.”

Norbert Feyling, retired cable car shop supervisor

When they tore down the old Petrini’s market at Fulton and Masonic Streets to build apartments some years ago, construction crews heard a big “clunk” as they excavated. What they’d uncovered was a tangle of cable from the old McAllister cable car barn and powerhouse ,which had become a streetcar barn, and then a bus barn over the course of 75 years before becoming a shopping center in the 1950s. In all those changes, no one had actually excavated the site. They learned why.

If you’d like your own slice of history, genuine cable car rail dating back to the 1880s, pay a visit to our online store. There, you’ll find both simple slices, great for paperweights or shelf display, and wooden plaques with either three or four different types of antique cable car rail mounted. Great holiday gifts. (A few of you Facebook users may have seen ads by a for-profit company offering cable car rail at the ridiculous price of $149. Our nonprofit offers it for less than ten bucks, and beautiful wooden plaques with three rails for half of their single slice. Plus, you’re supporting our work on behalf of cable car history when you do it!)

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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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Unhappy 147th birthday, cable cars

In the wee hours of August 2, 1873, Andrew Hallidie gripped the first street cable car in history over a precipice on Clay Street. Hallidie, a Scots immigrant who had extensive expertise in “wire rope” technology to move buckets of ore above ground in the state’s mining district, had applied his knowledge to pull people in little cars up hills that horses couldn’t climb. His franchise for the line had technically expired at midnight on August 1, but there were… — Read More

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When the oldest streetcar was new

How old is the oldest electric streetcar in Muni’s historic fleet? So old that it regularly crossed paths with cable cars on Market Street. When “dinkies” (small, single truck streetcars) like preserved Car 578 were new, they were also novel, in that cable cars dominated San Francisco transit and had the exclusive rights to Market Street. The electric cars only saw Market when they crossed it. While they looked like cable cars, they were twice as fast and very high… — Read More

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