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 old plexiglass windshields with fresh new ones. Longer-term, they’ll install split glass windshields like the other boat tram has.

Hope you enjoyed the vintage streetcars that pinch-hit for the boat the past few weeks: the Melbourne tram and the EuroPCC. You’ll see them both, and many others, during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Big 19 in Broad Daylight

Sacramento-Clay Cable Car 19 crosses Powell Street on August 6, 2019 with many of the crew that helped bring it back to life. Rick Laubscher photos.

For the first time in 77 years today, the biggest cable car in San Francisco (or anywhere for that matter) climbed “halfway to the stars” and back down again under cable power, in regular service conditions.

The cable car known as “Big 19” for its size (seven feet longer than Powell Street Cable Car 19, and four feet longer than the California Street cable cars, previously the longest in the fleet) has been on the streets twice before in recent weeks for testing, but both times at night, while the rest of the cable cars were sleeping in the barn.

Today, it ran from the cable car barn at Washington and Mason Street just as a regular-service California Street cable car would, the cable pulling it up Jackson Street and along Hyde to reach the California line, then up to Van Ness, reversing ends all the way to Market Street, and back again to Hyde, pulling onto the non-revenue (no passengers) stretch of track on Hyde between California and Washington Streets.

There, a few feet from its long-time route along Clay Street, the crew tested the slot blade, the emergency brake that brings cable cars to a quick stop when other brakes have problems. It worked fine, but under cable car rules, a car has to be towed back to the barn whenever a slot blade is dropped, so that’s how it ended today’s test.

More on the earlier testing, including a detailed history of this amazing car, first operated in 1883 — on Market Street! — here.

Crossing Grant Avenue. For 34 years, Big 19 and its 11 siblings served Chinatown faithfully via the next two blocks to the north (behind the car): Sacramento and Clay Streets.

We were invited along for today’s ride. The car handled very well throughout. It’s a little noisier than other cable cars, which shop supervisor Arne Hansen, who spearheaded restoration efforts, ascribed to the new trucks under the car. But the noise was music to the crew onboard, who have made this resurrection a labor of love.

So, no problems encountered anywhere; it fit everywhere. Because of its length, it wasn’t certain it would clear the terminal switch at California and Market while a Cal Car was “in the hole” (The extra space to store a cable car at the end of the line), but it made it with ease.

Acting Senior Operations Manager for Cable Car, Wes Valaris, a former gripman, poses on the running board of Big 19 at the California and Market terminal, with F-line PCC 1051 photobombing the shot from behind.

There’s still some paperwork to be done, but at this writing, it looks like Big 19 will be cleared to make its passenger-carrying debut on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, an exciting event for sure. Thereafter, it’s expected to join O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Cable Car 42 for infrequent but incredible special event service.

We’ll be posting updated information on Heritage Weekend soon, but be sure to leave time for a ride on Big 19.

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Back On Track — After 77 Years Off!

“Big 19” on California Street, about to clatter across the Powell Street cable car tracks. Traci Cox photo.

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 event. This was the final test in a 20-year process to return a tired, sagging cable car that forlornly sat at the back of the cable car barn into a fully operable vehicle.

“Big 19” crossing Kearny Street inbound, heading toward Market Street. Traci Cox photo.

This cable car was originally built as an open car, running on one of the five Market Street cable lines before the 1906 earthquake and fire. When that event destroyed the Market Street cable system, Car 19 was one 12 such cable cars rebuilt into the standard double-end cable car configuration for San Francisco — open end sections and an enclosed center section. It debuted on the Sacramento-Clay line in 1907 and ran continuously until 1942, when that line shut down. Among the longest cable cars ever built (34 feet), the Sacramento-Clay cars couldn’t fit on the turntables of the Powell Street lines, and so most of them were scrapped, with a few becoming static displays, including the most famous survivor, Car 16, which was lifted to the roof of The Emporium, there to be clambered upon by generations of kids during holiday roof ride season, until it finally rotted away.

The cable car on the left, shown climbing Haight Street near Laguna in 1886, is the type of Market Street Cable Car that was converted following the earthquake into a Sacramento-Clay car, like Big 19. Note the identical roof, then and now. (In the current restoration, the bells were moved onto the clerestory roof to operate the same as today’s cable cars. Photo from opensfhistory.org, wnp13.236

Sacramento-Clay Car 19 was bought by the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1948 (apparently for $50), and stored in San Francisco for possible future display. In 1967, as part of the effort to create a cable car museum at the Washington-Mason power- house, Car 19 returned “home” but because of its size and weight (14,000 lbs.) was not chosen for display at the museum. Instead, it was stuck in the rear of the cable car storage area and largely forgotten for 30 years, until the car’s body showed signs of weakness.

Sacramento-Clay Car 19 in storage at Pier 80 during the cable car rebuilding in 1983, before its restoration by the cable car carpentry shop in 1997-89. SFMTA Archive.

Market Street Railway advocated the car’s restoration, and in 1997-98, Muni’s wonderful cable car carpentry shop did so — to actual operational standards, instead of just a cosmetic upgrade. No plans emerged at that time to add it to the active fleet, but some years later, fitted with new California Street type trucks, a test was made to see if it would clear the curves. It didn’t make it out of the Cable Car Barn, as the trucks hit the running boards. So, it was returned to storage.

But the car intrigued Cable Car Maintenance Manager Arne Hansen, along with Division Superintendent Brent Jones. Arne’s crack crew adjusted the running boards and made a number of tests, incrementally preparing the car for a return to service.

Car 19’s twin, Car 21, climbs through Chinatown on Sacramento Street in 1941.

Last week, “Big 19” (so-called by the master gripman, Val Lupiz, who was at the levers last night, a nickname to differentiate it from little sibling Powell 19) was towed around the Cal line by a truck and cleared every curve and hill crown. This extra-long cable car had never run on California Street before, and the entire trackage of the line was rebuilt in 1982-84 anyway, leaving at least a little doubt as to whether it could clear some of the hill crowns and curves going to and from the Cable Car Barn.

This morning, with grips installed, Val Lupiz latched onto the cable and completed the circuit of the California Street line. Big 19 must now be certified by SFMTA’s System Safety Department, and once that’s done, this unique cable car can return to service — not to Sacramento & Clay Streets of course, but certainly on California Street, and then, who knows, perhaps even on the outer ends of the Powell lines, where switches installed in the 1980s rebuilding would allow it to bypass the turntables.

We have already requested that this wonderful and unique cable car carry passengers on California Street during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8. We’ll keep you up to date. We would expect it would take its place next to Muni’s other cable car that represents a “fallen flag” (abandoned line), O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Car 42 (which Market Street Railway acquired for Muni and helped restore 20 years ago), operating on Muni Heritage Weekends every year and other occasional special events.

Welcome back, “Big 19”, and special thanks to Arne Hansen and his crew, to Brent Jones, and to Val Lupiz, whose personal advocacy contributed greatly to this success.

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

PCC 1077, heading back to the F-line at Oracle Park, missed the opportunity to pick up a platform full of postgame E-line riders.

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down.

E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the way. This coincided with the crowds headed to the Giants-Cubs game, which 37,000 attended. The crew of at least one of those southbound cars, 737, took the opportunity to pick up intending ballpark passengers — a full load on that car, we’re told.

After the game, we spotted Birmingham PCC 1077 coming back from MME, marked “F-Market/”NOT IN SERVICE”. It was piloted by a regular operator (not a shopman). It dwelled at the ballpark E-line stop, but didn’t open its doors, even when an intending rider knocked. It would have been so great if that car had done what the 737 did pre-game and emptied the E-line platform, because it was a long time (surprise, surprise) before a regular E-line car came along. According to our live streetcar map, 1077 went back into service on the F and stayed out late into the evening, so the car itself was operational.

As our members and friends know, Market Street Railway supports Muni, serving as its nonprofit preservation partner. But we are also an independent advocacy group, which concentrates on pushing for the best possible service to riders. This blog and our other publications are heavily read by rail fans, not just locally, but worldwide. That’s great; their support has always been very important to us . But we also constantly think about the San Franciscans and visitors who don’t closely follow the individual streetcars or cable cars; they just want an efficient ride on these unique vehicles.

That’s why we mention this busy day on the waterfront. It shows that unexpected events (the power problem) can disrupt regular service, but it may also provide unexpected opportunities. The crew of 737 took the opportunity to go above and beyond in moving people during a peak period, even though off its regular route; the 1077 did not. We hope the next time something like this happens, putting passengers first will be top of mind for everyone involved with the vintage operation.

We also hope that every operator on E- and F-line pull-in trips will carry passengers all the way to Balboa Park on the J-line, instead of going out of service at 17th & Noe on their pull-in trips, which some still do. (The rules call for rail vehicles to be in-service on all trips between the car barn and their assigned route.) Passing up passengers does not make friends for the streetcars, or for Muni.

We’ll reiterate these observations to SFMTA management.

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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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Thank You, Ed Reiskin

Note: A version of this article is contained in the current edition of the Market Street Railway magazine Inside Track, reaching mailboxes now. It has been updated here.   By Carmen Clark, MSR Board Chair and Rick Laubscher, MSR President Edward D. Reiskin, Director of Transportation (the top executive) of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is moving on from his post. His last day in the office was this week. We at Market Street Railway will greatly miss his… — 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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Showing Transit Pride

Check out this article in the San Francisco Examiner by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez about this Pride Month initiative taken on a personal basis by our board member, Chris Arvin. Chris’ design work is on display on our website in the engaging streetcar icons featured on the live streetcar map designed by fellow board member Kat Siegal. We offer stickers of those icons at our San Francisco Railway Museum and online store. A wide variety of Pride-related items, including tee shirts… — Read More

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Flashback to 1906 on June 26

In the latest installment of Market Street Railway’s series of history talks, called Inside Track Live, you’ll be able to see the famous 1906 Miles Brothers film, “A Trip Down Market Street”, as you’ve never seen it before. On Wednesday, June 26 at 6 p.m., at our San Francisco Railway Museum, MSR President Rick Laubscher will present the highest-quality transfer of this precious film ever made, showing a 12-minute ride from Eighth Street to the Ferry along Market Street, shot… — 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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Muni Heritage Weekend Sept. 7-8

The premier vintage transit event of the year, Muni Heritage Weekend, happens September 7-8 this year. Rides will be offered each day from 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. For the first time, this popular event, co-sponsored by SFMTA and Market Street Railway, will kick off San Francisco Transit Week, an event co-sponsored by SFMTA and the San Francisco Transit Riders organization (SFTR). Details are still being finalized, but for Heritage Weekend at least, you can expect, at a minimum, several… — 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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The E is Back!

After a hiatus caused by project work on two of Muni’s light rail lines, the E-Embarcadero line has returned to service. Nice writeup in the SFMTA blog. Show your support for the E-line! Take a ride anywhere between Caltrain and Fisherman’s Wharf along the waterfront, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. We’re going to be strengthening our advocacy to expand the hours of service and extend the line to Aquatic Park and then to Fort Mason Center.

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