Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864

Yep, you read that right. Before Market Street had electric streetcars, cable cars, or horse-powered streetcars, it had a STEAM-powered streetcar. In fact, this was the first rail transit on Market Street, started up in 1860.

This photo, which we had not seen before, just surfaced on a Facebook group, without a source reference. It shows Market Street during the Civil War (the date given is 1864, and that seems at least very close). We’re looking west, toward Twin Peaks. The downtown hadn’t been built out that far in 1864; you can see the empty lands and sand hills in the distance. We’re in between the numbered streets on the south side, so that intersection on the north side is most likely O’Farrell and Dupont (later Grant Avenue — its namesake was still earning his right to have an SF street named after him at this time).

Note the giant American flag, reminding one and all that California was a Union state. Also note the boardwalks for pedestrians, the streetamps that probably used kerosene (piped gas was still in the future, along with electricity), and the lack of traffic.

And, wait, wait, in the distance, that rectangular object in the middle of the street is — a streetcar powered by steam.

It and three others belonged to the Market Street Railroad, first of several companies to incorporate the city’s main street into its name. They carried both passengers and baggage. The line opened on July 4, 1860, operating from Third and Market Streets to 16thand Valencia Streets. This was an unusual application of steam power, and expensive to operate. It was extended eastward to the foot of Market and south on Valencia to 26thStreet, but proved a financial failure, forcing conversion to horsecar operation in 1867. Yet this first line demonstrated the importance of fixed-route transit in developing neighborhoods.

As it turned out, steam-powered transit got a second life on Market from 1880-1888, when a steam dummy and trailer covered the western end of the street from Valencia to Castro, until cable car service was extended. More conventional steam passenger trains carried people from the geographic center of the city to the Cliff House and Ocean Beach later on.

Here’s a closer-up photo of the first steam-powered streetcar, taken near the opening in 1860. It’s the only one we knew to exist, until now.

 

We don’t have a steam train to ride on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 8 and 9, but there’ll be some great electric streetcars, cable cars, and buses. Come to our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street, between 11 am and 5 pm (new times–we’ll explain shortly).

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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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Happy 145th Anniversary, Cable Cars!

August 2, 1873 — In the wee small hours of a misty San Francisco night (they didn’t call the month “Fogust” back then, but it was), a new type of transit was about to be inaugurated. An endless wire rope clattered beneath Clay Street. An odd open vehicle sat on the rails at the top of the hill. Standing by was Andrew Smith Hallidie, a Scot who had experience using wire rope in the mining business, and was part of the team promoting this new technology, aimed at making horsecars obsolete.

The operator of the little car peered out over the edge of the steep hill and decided, “No.” As the story goes, Hallidie himself stepped up, gripped the wire rope, went down the hill safely, and the cable car was born.

Some historians argue over the details of that opening run, but we’re not going to get into that here. We’ll just say that the first line, on Clay Street, became part of a longer line in the late 1880s that ran one way on Clay and the other on Sacramento Street. At that point, it began being served by new single-end cable cars without the trailers you see in this engraving from Wikimedia Commons.

On April 18, 1906, earthquake and fire wiped out identical cable cars that served Powell Street, so the cars from the Sacramento-Clay line were moved to Powell, where many still run to this day. Larger double-end cable cars took over on the Sacramento-Clay line and lasted until 1942 when the line was shut. One of the last group of Sacramento-Clay cable cars (Car 19, built in 1907) has been restored, thanks in part to advocacy from Market Street Railway, and is stored upstairs in the cable car barn at Washington and Mason Streets. Downstairs, in the Cable Car Museum, the last surviving original car from the Clay Street Hill Railroad, Grip Car 8, is on display.

 

While you haven’t been able to ride a cable car on Clay Street for 76 years, you can still ride cable cars that ran on Clay Street back in the 1890s. Current Powell cable car 11 (above), built in 1893 by Carter Brothers and recently refurbished by Muni’s shops, ran on the Sacramento-Clay line until 1906, and was recently repainted into its original Sacramento-Clay livery from the 1890s at Market Street Railway’s suggestion.

The other surviving Powell cable cars that once ran on Clay Street include numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27. (Thanks to Joe Thompson’s Cable-Car-Guy website for the authoritative roster.) If you climb aboard any of these cars on the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason lines today, you’re experiencing a connection back to the first street on which cable cars ever ran.

Happy 145th Anniversary of the first successful cable car system!

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A Gripping Evening with Val Lupiz

Val Lupiz, expert gripman and San Francisco historian, was hosted on July 18 by MSR Board member Paul Lucas in the second installment of Market Street Railway’s quarterly series Inside Track-Live! A packed house at our San Francisco Railway Museum was treated to hearing how Val started as a rail-obsessed kid, to being the only gripman to operate historic Cable Car 42 in multiple Muni Heritage Festivals. Val’s stories ranged from heartwarming— helping passengers with marriage proposals— to uproarious— how he earned the nickname Mr. 12 o’clock and gripes from other grips.

The event was live-streamed in a Market Street Railway first. Audience members, both in person at the Museum and online, engaged in a fascinating question and answer session. The daughter of San Francisco’s first African American Cable Car operator, Sam McDaniel, attended with her own granddaughter—prompting a murmur of recognition from the audience and providing insights into the human aspects of San Francisco’s Cable Car system.

Here’s the link to the FB Live video of Val’s talk. It is also available on YouTube, broken into two parts:

Keep an eye on streetcar.org for our upcoming events and news on Muni Heritage Weekend, planned for September 8 and 9!

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Meet Cable Car Historian Val Lupiz July 18

San Francisco has a tradition of unique personalities who share a deep love of this special place. Nothing is more special in our special cities than the cable cars, and no one has a deeper love for our rolling National Historic Landmark than Val Lupiz. Val just celebrated his 19th anniversary as a cable car gripman, so he knows today’s system inside out. He also knows cable car history better than almost anyone else. That photo, above, is Val’s creation:… — Read More

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New Heritage Cable Car Livery Selected

Thanks to a rare photo posted by cable car gripman and historian Val Lupiz, Market Street Railway has selected its next heritage cable car livery. We’re calling it the “blank slate” livery. Ten of the Powell Street cable cars are painted in heritage liveries — the paint schemes Powell cable cars actually wore at different points in their 130 year history.  But no heritage liveries have yet been applied to California Street cable cars as yet because, except for one… — Read More

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“Trackless Trolleys”?

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at… — Read More

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Tunnel Vision

Note: This is a edited version of a story by MSR President Rick Laubscher from the most recent issue of our Member magazine, Inside Track. We generally don’t share exclusive member content on our blog, but are making an exception in this case for the tunnel’s centennial. You can join Market Street Railway and get this magazine with great stories four times a year.  (By the way, if you’re reading this on our main page, we recommend you click on the title… — Read More

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Santa Claus Was Coming to Town

One of the joys of the San Francisco holiday season 50 or 60 years ago was the arrival of Santa Claus. Not down the chimney on Christmas Eve, but weeks earlier, down Powell Street on a cable car. Along with thousands of San Franciscans of a certain age, I (Rick Laubscher, Market Street Railway president) remember it well. For many years after World War II, the Emporium chartered a cable car each year, decorated it, and carried Santa Claus downtown… — Read More

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Snow in San Francisco 85 years ago today

Yep. It happened on December 11, 1932 — one of the few snowfalls in the city proper that actually stuck to the ground, if only for a little while. According to the site “California History,” The City recorded its coldest temperature ever, 27 degrees fahrenheit, on this day. This photo from Charlie Smallwood’s definitive history of the Market Street Railway, The White Front Cars of San Francisco, shows Car 206 on the 1-line at Sutro Division, 32nd and Clement Streets, during a… — Read More

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Positively (Twenty-)Fourth Street

Okay, the headline reference is anachronistic, because this shot goes WAY back beyond Dylan. So evocative, though, we couldn’t resist the reference. Few are still around who remember streetcars on 24th Street, now the cultural center of the City’s Latino community and known to many as Calle 24. But here we are in 1938 (based on the streetcar and the automobile license plate) looking east on 24th at York Street, staring at a 35-Howard line streetcar. It has just descended… — Read More

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Van Ness and McAllister, Nov. 1, 1917

This photo from the SFMTA Archive was taken exactly 100 years before the date of this post, on November 1, 1917. No streetcars in the picture, but we do see important infrastructure: the poles that hold up the wires that bring power to the streetcars. We’re at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street, looking northeast across Van Ness. City Hall, then new, sits on the southeast corner of this intersection. Across Van Ness, we see an apartment… — Read More

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10/15/17 — Twice!

Here are two photos at the same location. One taken 100 years ago today, the other taken…today. On October 15, 1917, United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz shot the black-and-white photo at the top, looking north from 18th Street on what was then called Kentucky Street. Soon, Kentucky would have its name changed to match the street it connected with several blocks north at China Basin — Third Street. (To the south of Islais Creek, Railroad Avenue would get Third… — Read More

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Merger Day, 73 years ago

September 29, 1944 — the privately-owned Market Street Railway Company turned over all its assets, including more than 500 streetcars, to the publicly-owned San Francisco Municipal Railway, following approval of San Francisco voters to buy the private company. Mayor Roger Lapham personally piloted the first ex-Market Street Railway Company streetcar as newspaper photographers clicked shots. Three years later, Lapham tried to kill off the Powell Street cable cars, included in the purchase of Market Street Railway. A grassroots citizens’ movement,… — Read More

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Happy Centennial, J-Church

  On August 11, 1917, Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph presided over the opening of Muni’s J-Church line. This line brought Muni service the Noe Valley and Dolores Heights areas, in competition with United Railroads’ privately owned streetcar lines on Guerrero Street and on 24th Street. Over the past century, most types of Muni cars ran the J-line regularly, especially the B-types (including preserved Cars 130 and 162. PCCs began exclusively serving the J-line in 1958, followed by Boeing LRVs… — Read More

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