Patriarch Streetcar Turns 125

578S 2nd and Mission, 1904, SFMTA Archives
Car 578 at 2nd and Mission, 1904. SFMTA Archive

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!

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Happy 125th Birthday, Car 578!!

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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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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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When will the cable cars and streetcars return?

The short answer is: we don’t know; it’s up to the virus and what we all do together to shorten its grip on our society. But Muni can be ready for that day, and we’re encouraging them to do so.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported the other day that cable car operations would likely not resume “until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available”, which health experts think could likely take a least a year, and possibly much longer, to create, produce, and adequately distribute. The article quoted SFMTA head Jeff Tumlin as saying, “The cable cars require the operator to have the most direct interaction with passengers, and we have no way to protect our operators on cable cars.” In our own discussions with current and former cable car gripmen, they agree that any type of Plexiglas barrier to separate themselves from riders would be infeasible. Beyond that, any kind of social distancing among passengers would drive down capacity to single digits per car.

The Examiner followed with its own, longer article, offering more historic perspective on cable car operations through the eyes of MSR President Rick Laubscher. Beyond the cable cars, both articles noted that Muni has not set a timetable to return the historic streetcars to service on the F- and E-lines, either. A Muni spokeswoman, Erika Kato, noted that most streetcars lack the Plexiglass barriers that currently operational Muni buses have.

The double-end “Torpedo” PCCs already have a protective barrier for operators, as shown in this 2012 photo with operator Angel Carvajal. The top portion here is open and swung behind his seat. Similar barriers are feasible to install on the single-end PCCs.

But that’s a fixable issue. The seven double-end PCC streetcars (Cars 1006-11 and 1015) already have these barriers. The two Melbourne trams, 496 and 916 have operator doors, as does “EuroPCC” (Brussels/Zurich) 737. On the operational Milan trams (about six currently), some hardware is still in place for the Plexiglas barriers that were on those cars when they arrived here from Italy 20 years ago. (Muni removed those barriers.)  It would be straightforward to fit Plexiglas shields again.

The bulk of the F-line fleet is the single-ended streamliner “PCC” cars, which have stanchions already installed in the right location behind the operator, requiring only fitting of hardware and plexiglas.  It’s our understanding that maintenance and engineering have done some preliminary design work already, and have asked top management whether they wish these shields fitted.  But we are not aware of any actual installation work being authorized as of yet.

Muni has the maintenance staff to do this. They’re at work right now, and they have already caught up on the streetcar maintenance backlog during the shutdown (the cars look great; all seats like new, scratched glass replaced, paint touched up).  

It’s clear that Covid-19 is going to be in our midst awhile, so it makes sense to have these changes implemented on the streetcars now. If we wait to do this until it’s safe to resume service, it would likely be an additional 3-6 months to get them back on the street. We are actively advocating for this protective word on the streetcars to be done now. When that’s completed, and with the same social distancing guidelines as other Muni vehicles imposed, it would seem there’s no mechanical or health reason the streetcars couldn’t return.

At that point, it would be up to where we as a society stand against the virus, how much ridership has returned, and how important SFMTA and the City consider the needs of the visitor industry in San Francisco among their many competing priorities. But with cable cars likely blocked from returning for a longer time, the F-line in particular will become the transit lifeline connecting Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, Union Square, Civic Center, and the Castro. Operating it with historic streetcars would clearly send a message that San Francisco is committed to retaining its uniqueness and attractiveness to the world.

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Status update April 6, 2020

Muni has announced its most drastic system cutback yet, going into effect the next couple of days. Here is their announcement. It includes a map of the routes that will continue to operate and details on why the service is being further reduced. This follows last month’s shutdown of, first, the cable cars and historic streetcars, on the grounds that operators had no separation from passengers akin to light rail vehicles and most buses. That was followed by the shutdown… — Read More

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Great Kickoff to Heritage Weekend

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… — Read More

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Boat Tram Sails Again

Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 is scheduled to resume its special service on the waterfront Tuesday, August 13 at 11 a.m., following a time in “dry dock” for motor repairs. You can ride the boat Tuesdays and Wednesdays the rest of August and into September between our San Francisco Railway Museum (across from the Ferry Building) and Fisherman’s Wharf between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. While the Muni shops were fixing the motor problem, the shops also replaced the clouded… — Read More

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Back On Track — After 77 Years Off!

Early this morning, a cable car originally constructed in 1883 became Muni’s oldest operating transit vehicle. Early this morning, Sacramento & Clay Sts. cable car 19 made a full trip on the California Street line pulled by the cable. It was the first time this cable car was pulled by a cable on the street in 77 years, since its retirement in 1942. This news, and these wonderful photos, come from Market Street Railway member Traci Cox who documented the… — Read More

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Trip to Europe on the Waterfront

With Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 pulling an temporary “Brexit” from this summer’s special waterfront streetcar service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Muni Chief Julie Kirschbaum is sending in fun substitutes to fill in. The coming two Tuesdays and Wednesdays (July 23-24 and July 30-31), 1952 Euro PCC 737 (which operated in Brussels but is painted to honor San Francisco’s Sister City, Zurich, Switzerland) will be cruising the waterfront. As a bonus, it will also operate on Swiss National Day, Thursday,… — Read More

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Boat Tram Still Sidelined

Update: 1928 Melbourne Tram 496 will continue to substitute for 1934 Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 on The Embarcadero Tuesday and Wednesday, July 16-17, while Muni maintenance crews analyze the problem with one of the motors or bearings. We will provide updates on the progress of fixing the boat tram as available. Muni Maintenance management tells us they will work to get the other Boat Tram, 233, operational for Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, should the problem with 228 be… — Read More

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Melbourne Tram Subs for Boat This Week

The popular 1934 Blackpool (England) open-topped “Boat Tram” encountered a problem at the end of its service week last Wednesday and is being worked on this week, so 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for it on the special waterfront service Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Muni assures us they’ll make every effort to return Boat service as quickly as possible. The Melbourne tram is a sweet ride, and with windows that drop all the way… — Read More

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Great Start to Summer Boat Service

The first day of summer boat tram service, May 28, went very well. Some highlights: The Boat ran great, the banners Market Street Railway prepared looked great; thanks to Randy Catanach’s rail maintenance crew. The operating crew (Angel Carvajal and Juiel Rice) were great with riders, very welcoming. Market Street Railway had docents on board all day answering questions. Loads were good all day; full both directions on final few trips. Lots of waves and positive feedback from onlookers all… — Read More

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Boat Tram About to Land

You may have already caught a glimpse of it along the J-line, or Market Street, or The Embarcadero, this week. Here are a couple of shots from Jeremy Whiteman’s Behind the Lens Facebook Group. Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 is celebrating its 85th birthday this year by taking San Franciscans and visitors for a cruise along our waterfront boulevard, The Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building to Pier 39 (gateway to Fisherman’s Wharf) starting the day after Memorial Day. The past… — Read More

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Sail the Boat Starting May 28

As a Summer gift to San Francisco, Muni will be operating the fabulous Blackpool Boat Tram in regular service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting May 28. The special service will last at least through Labor Day, perhaps longer, running from the Ferry Building to Pier 39, adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf along The Embarcadero. (The Pier 39 terminal will allow more trips per day, avoiding the long queue of E- and F-line regular service streetcars taking their layover at Jones Street.)… — Read More

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Homeward Bound Bumblebee

This newly renovated Muni PCC streetcar is bringing sunshine on cloudy days as it makes its way back to San Francisco. Car 1057, painted in the eye-popping yellow of Cincinnati Street Railway Company, should arrive in San Francisco on Wednesday, February 20, based on its reported location in Tehachapi on Highway 58 in southern California on the morning of February 19. These photos were posted by Dustin Mosher to our Facebook group. The combination of the bright yellow and the… — Read More

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