Friday Fun and Fantasy

 

It’s amazing how Muni’s historic streetcar operation has garnered fans and created fantasies all over the world. The wonderful “fictional image” by artist Garry Luck above is an example. It came to our attention today as part of a post and comments in a Facebook group called Blackpool’s Transport Past. It’s a modification of an artist’s conception of a decapitated version of Blackpool, England “Coronation” Tram 663. (The name refers to their construction date, 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II). Below is another artist’s conception by Mr. Luck, which we have learned after first posting this, depicts the red livery of Prague.

 

The original Facebook poster of the photo, Philip Higgs, headed the preservation group Lancastrian Transport Trust, which acquired several cars from Blackpool Transport when that venerable operator greatly reduced its heritage fleet after acquiring modern trams (to their great credit, Blackpool Transport has reversed course and now offers vibrant heritage tram services much of the year).

Higgs writes in his post that in 2012, his group “was forced to reduce the size of its preserved vehicle collection and prior to Coronation 663 passing to a private owner for continued preservation, discussions took place with a USA based tramway operator to produce a semi open top car”.  Group member Alun Wylde then posted the green and cream photo as a comment, noting “Whilst the open top ruins the car, the Muni livery of green and cream wings quite suits it”.

We at Market Street Railway do not know who the “USA based tramway operator” was who had discussions about this Coronation tram. We don’t believe it was Muni. Mr. Higgs did not mention this concept to us two years later during our negotiations with him to purchase an actual original open-top boat tram (Car 233) from his group for preservation by Muni. Happily, Tram 663 was eventually transferred to the Blackpool Transport Trust, the nonprofit support group for Blackpool Transport, and is said to now be under restoration to its original appearance in England for eventual return to Blackpool’s rails. Here’s the story on that.

Here’s how the Coronations appear, as built. The glass skylight windows are cool, but if memory serves they can make the interior hot, even in seaside Blackpool. And the automatic controllers of these cars, known by the acronym VAMBAC, were notoriously unreliable in service.

As our regular reader/members know, acquiring a vintage streetcar and getting it roadworthy and maintainable in a modern US street operating environment is a protracted process.

In fact, we do not even start making a serious acquisition attempt until we have ascertained that Muni leadership will accept the streetcar and commit to its restoration and upkeep as resources allow (knowing that this sometimes takes many years). Once we have that assurance, we seek funding to cover acquisition and transport costs.

We specifically sought a second open-top boat tram because the first one we acquired for Muni in 1984, Car 228, has proven to be the most popular vehicle in Muni’s streetcar fleet whenever it appears on the street. Having a second genuine boat tram will ultimately allow reliable chartering and special operation of this car type regularly.

We were and are gratified that the Thoresen Foundation, responded positively to our outreach for funding for 233 with a generous grant and that FedEx helped underwrite shipping. (We detail this process because one commenter on the Blackpool group mused that we go off chasing streetcars whenever a “wealthy foundation” has an interest in a particular one. Uh, no.)

Boat Tram 233 has had all its electrical modifications completed, but now awaits truck work for regular operation. (It’s worth remembering that when transit agencies choose individual cars to retire from service, they naturally pick the ones that need work to stay in their own fleet.)  Muni has to fit in the work on 233 around regular maintenance and other historic car processes, so for now, the boat tram we acquired for Muni in 1984, No. 228, handles most appearances (although both were out for Heritage Weekend in September for the first time since 233’s initial display appearance in 2014, pictured below, 233 on the left).

We plan to work with Muni in the coming months to advocate for a schedule with more appearances during the good-weather months for the boats, which are the “people’s choice” as most popular cars in the historic fleet whenever they appear.

Meantime, that Wings fantasy livery…well, well…  🙂

 

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What a Weekend!

As you can see on our recap at the top of the main page, Muni Heritage Weekend was a real humdinger. What was especially great was the large number of families that came out to enjoy the vintage vehicles. SFMTA had some specific events to attract kids including cable car bell ringing practice with 10-time champion Carl Payne, design your own streetcar, and more.

But the vehicles themselves are what the families loved. Here are some photos that show it.

Thanks to everyone involved with this year’s Muni Heritage Weekend. We’ll have a list later, but for now, special thanks to the team that remade our website to bring the action to you: Jeremy Whiteman for the live webcam, which will become a permanent part of streetcar.org, Chris Arvin and Kat Siegal, who designed the new material as the first step of their improvements to our website, and the photographers who posted their shots on Instagram and on our website: SFMTA photographer Jeremy Menzies, plus volunteers Jeff Bennett, Jack Demnyan, Adolfo Echeverry, Katie Haverkamp, Steve Sousa, and Jeremy Whiteman. Thanks to all!

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“Coming to Town” Talk to Help Open Salesforce Transit Center August 11

 

Lots of buzz about the new $2.1 Salesforce Transit Center holding its grand opening Saturday, August 11. For example, this story in the Examiner, worth a read for the historic context. Or this one, about the incredible park atop the terminal. Or this one, about the loonnng delay in getting train service (commuter and high-speed to LA) into the terminal  in the afternoon.

But in this post, we’re inviting everyone to the new center’s bus deck at 1 pm on Saturday, August 11 to hear a presentation by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher called “Coming to Town: Gateway to San Francisco, 1875-Today.” Rick will talk about the way San Francisco welcomed commuters and visitors entering the city from the East, from the years just after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, to the dedication of the shiny new center that very day, including two-and-a-half Ferry Buildings and the original Transbay Terminal, hosting three different railroads that crossed the Bay Bridge when it was new.

Rick will be presenting next to a vintage Muni bus (you’ll have to show up to see which one), and will illustrate the talk with some rare photographs.

Some of those rare photographs are part of the new exhibit of the same name — Coming to Town — that opens at our San Francisco Railway Museum that same day, Saturday, August 12. It’s quite a story.

The photo at the top, for example, from the John Bromley Collection of our Market Street Railway Archive, shows trains in the then-new Transbay Terminal in 1939 or 1940. That train in the center is from the Sacramento Northern Railroad, and ran along much of what is now BART’s right-of-way through Contra Costa County, then crossed Suisun Bay on a ferry and continued to Sacramento, with some trains going as far as Chico!

And to bring things up to date, the photo below, taken just last week, shows a brand new diesel bus on the 7-Haight-Noriega with SF Transit Center as its destination (SF standing for Salesforce, not San Francisco in this case — Muni buses have been using the ground level bus stops there for a month now).  But looky looky next to it: a 1928 Milan tram incorrectly signed for “Transbay Terminal” as its destination. (The F-line streetcars used the old tracks to the old terminal from 1995 until 2000, when the extension to Fisherman’s Wharf opened.)  Nice catch by the photographer.

We also want to give a shout out to Jeremy Menzies’ “Tales of the Old Transbay Terminal” on Muni’s blog. Some great photos from the archives of the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Junction, which occupies the old Sacramento Northern right-of-way through the area and has preserved an interurban car identical to the one pictured above.

So, on Saturday, August 11, come by First and Mission Streets at 1 pm to see Rick Laubscher’s talk on the bus deck, then tour the fabulous new center during its open house, which includes the one-time-only opportunity to walk along the bus-only ramp connecting the center to the Bay Bridge. Here are all the details on the open house.

Then, at any point in the next six months or so, come to the San Francisco Railway Museum to see the new “Coming to Town” exhibit.

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“The bell is charming; the horn works”

 

The headline above is a great quote from a great story in Curbed SF about a dad and his two kids riding every Muni line terminal to terminal this summer. This installment includes the F-line where they rode the newest PCC to return to service following rebuilding, Car 1050 (pictured above in yet another calendar-worthy photo from Traci Cox). The author, Mc Allen, describes rolling along The Embarcadero on the “retro delight” PCC, “exceptionally maintained as rolling museums”.

Along the way, since it’s a mostly tourist-laced area, the operator chimed the train’s bell several times to alert pedestrians wading into intersections. She also honked the rarely used yet very loud train horn, including a 40 second series of blasts at a clueless Uber driver trying to enter a “streetcars only” trackway along Pier 39.

After we made it to the end of the line, I asked the operator how she decides between the bell and the horn. She replied with the quote of the day: The bell is charming; the horn works.”

Fans know that in San Francisco and most other PCC cities, the streetcars only had a bell (actually called a gong) for warning pedestrians. Under modern safety regulations, the streetcars now also have a VERY loud horn.

The whole story is a nice shout-out to Muni and a must-read for any transit fan.

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Celebrating Dashiell Hammett’s 120th Birthday

Dashiell Hammett was born May 27, 1894. He essentially created the modern detective novel. His most famous fictional character was Sam Spade. To celebrate Hammett’s 120th birthday, and the enduring greatness of the Spade character, we’re providing a link to a Feature article that appeared nine years ago in our member newsletter, Inside Track. It tells the story of how Hammett wove his own rail riding experiences in San Francisco (both streetcars and cable cars) in to his novels. Check… — Read More

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Tipple Your Way Along the F-line

The Twin Peaks bar is right at the F-line Castro terminal. Photo (c) Elrond Lawrence. We’re not in the business of promoting booze, but San Francisco is, after all, a great drinking town, and if you’re going to do that, you need a designated driver. How about letting an F-line operator fill that role, by patronizing establishments along the route? Our friends at Thrillist have put together a list of bars and restaurants all along the F-line with dandy libations… — Read More

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Walgreen’s Invents New Transit Vehicle

Underneath the very intersection of historic transit in San Francisco, in the basement of the old Emporium (now a food court named — wait for it — the Food Emporium), is a shiny new Walgreen’s. Kind of a mini-Walgreen’s, actually. There are a couple of bigger ones within a block or two (are drug stores multiplying like Starbucks?) Anyway, just so you don’t think you’re dealing with some kind of national chain or anything, they’ve got a sign saying they’ve… — Read More

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New Field Guide to SF’s Historic Streetcars & Cable Cars

Market Street Railway is proud to announce the release of our new field guide to San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars: ON TRACK. Written by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, this 128-page guide tells you the story of each vintage rail vehicle in Muni’s fleet, gives you riding tips, lists the historic sites you’ll pass on each route, and shares insider secrets for great walks that link to your historic ride. It’s full color and there are great… — Read More

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On the Good Ship Lollipop

Today, we bid a fond farewell to Shirley Temple Black, actress and diplomat, who passed away last night at her Peninsula home. She was 85. Shirley Temple is generally considered the most famous child star ever. In dozens of films during the 1930s, she lifted moviegoers’ spirits and touched their hearts with her upbeat persona and infectious dimpled smile. Some of her songs, such as “Good Ship Lollipop,” were hummed or whistled by people everywhere. In the depths of the… — Read More

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Our E-line Vision Gaining Attention

In the wake of several successful weekends of vintage streetcar service the length of The Embarcadero on the E-line, the Curbed website posted a story on our vision for an extended E-line service today. That, in turn, spawned a post on SFist. Curbed drew on the document we’ve been distributing around town, which you can download here. Recently restored E-line PCC streetcar No. 1008 switches off the F-line tracks onto the connector track that will take it the rest of… — Read More

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On the Line: Hard Water

We start a new feature today: fun places you can reach on Muni’s historic streetcar or cable car lines. Our first entry is Hard Water, the hot new whisky bar cum southern cooking temple that’s the brainchild of Charles Phan, proprietor of the famous Slanted Door. The whisky wall at Hard Water. Although Hard Water is just one F-line stop away from the Ferry Building’s Slanted Door, it’s a world away from Phan’s celebrated take on Vietnamese cuisine. The location… — Read More

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Learn How the F-line Started, At Our Museum

Thirty years ago this week, the first San Francisco Historic Trolley Festival kicked off, with then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein personally piloting historic Muni Car No. 1 from 17th Street and Market to East Bay Terminal. The festival was so successful, the mayor asked that it be repeated…and the F-line rapidly progressed from a dream to full-time reality. We recount that seminal event in a new exhibit at our San Francisco Railway Museum. And now there’s more opportunity to see it, because… — Read More

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Mid-Market Comeback

PCC No. 1060 enlivens the scene at Seventh and Market Streets. (c) Melissa Wuschnig. In his Chronicle column today, former Mayor Willie Brown said of the mid-Market area, “After decades of nothing but talk, that area is really taking off.” Decades is right. I grew up on Market Street. My family had delicatessens between Fifth and Sixth and between Fourth and Third in the 1950s (and one at Fifth and Jessie as well). As a kid, I watched the stretch… — Read More

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Sunday Street(car)s!

San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) mounted the latest Sunday Streets celebration March 10, 2013, along The Embarcadero. We thought what better way to see it than from Muni’s 1934 boat tram from Blackpool, England. Come along for the ride in this video we put together!

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Visit Us This Weekend at the SF History Expo

Market Street Railway and the San Francisco Railway Museum invite you to visit us at the third annual San Francisco History Expo. This great event takes place Saturday, March 2 from 10-5 and Sunday, March 5, from 10-4, at the historic Old U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission Streets, worth a visit by itself. Our display of San Francisco transit artifacts at the first History Expo in 2011. This amazing event, sponsored by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society,… — Read More

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