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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“The Greatest Streetcar Museum in America”

 

 

That’s the title of a great piece by Justin Franz on the Trains Magazine website today. Click the link and read it. It really says everything that needs to be said about the history and popularity of San Francisco’s vintage streetcar operation.  Thanks, Justin, for the story, and thanks, Muni, for the dedicated people who run and maintain these treasures.

Just to be clear, the headline on Justin’s piece refers to the streetcars themselves, what we call the “Museums in Motion”. As he writes, “MUNI’s streetcars look like museum pieces, but don’t think for a second think they’re static.” That’s exactly why we’ve worked so hard in our advocacy for the past 35 years: restore streetcars to their “natural habitat” — the STREET — where today’s riders can feel the rumble, hear the squeals, experience what generations past experienced — in the same type of streetcar, on the same street. We appreciate the recognition.

A reminder that we totally depend on donations and memberships from people who love the “Museums in Motion” like we do. We receive no government money at all. Your donations and memberships make it possible to continue the successful advocacy that created San Francisco’s vintage streetcar lines in the first place, and keeps them on track today. Please consider supporting us. (You can donate as little as $5, less cost than one round-trip on the streetcars.)

For those who clicked through to our website from the link in the article, a reminder that Muni Heritage Weekend will feature special appearances by streetcars, buses, and a cable car that are only rarely (if at all) in the daily service Justin describes. Heritage Weekend is September 8 and 9 this year, centered at our San Francisco Railway Museum near the Ferry Building, which also functions as an interpretive center for the “Museums in Motion”. We’ll have more about Muni Heritage Weekend on this site in a few days.

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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… — Read More

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Bringing LA Back to SF from PA

As our Members and friends know, the original F-line fleet of PCC streetcars, 16 in all, is being completely restored at Brookville Equipment Company in Brookville, Pennsylvania. The latest streetcar to arrive in San Francisco, rolling in as this is being written on July 25, is Car 1052, painted to honor Los Angeles Railway. We call it the “Shirley Temple Car” because that child star dedicated the first car of this design to operate in Los Angeles, in 1937. But… — Read More

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Double Dose of Down Under This Weekend

UPDATE, Saturday July 21, 11:00 a.m. — Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The 916 developed a hot wheel bearing this morning and has safely returned to Cameron Beach Yard, where it will be fixed by the maintenance team. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint, and they’re excited about taking it out again soon, though it will almost certainly not be out Sunday, July 22.… — Read More

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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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“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… — Read More

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Buses on F-line, No E-line Sunday, June 24

The Pride Parade has been San Francisco’s summer kickoff celebration for more than decades now, with huge throngs lining Market Street to watch almost 300 parade units go by. Back in the 1980s, historic streetcars were actually part of the parade, shown here in 1983, as a Blackpool boat tram and Muni’s famed Car 1 participated. The boat tram’s authentic destination sign seemed particularly appropriate. This year, though, streetcars will be completely absent from the parade route, not only for the duration… — Read More

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Sayonara Cincinnati

PCC streetcar 1057, painted in tribute to Cincinnati, is on its way back to Brookville, Pennsylvania for a complete renovation, part of the contract to restore the 16 original F-line PCCs. Thanks to Allen Chan for the photo of it being loaded at Muni Metro East. In the foreground, Car 1010, a double-end PCC awaiting its own turn at Brookville. Next finished streetcar expected back should be 1052.  

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Sacramento Street on Powell!

Few people realize that most of the cable cars that run on the two Powell Street lines originally ran on Sacramento and Clay Streets. Before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the Sacramento-Clay line ran all the way from the Ferry Building to Golden Gate Park (at Sixth Avenue and Fulton). It shared ownership with the Powell lines. A number of new cable cars were locally built in 1893-94 by Carter Brothers to serve the Midwinter Fair in the Park. One… — Read More

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Brooklyn is Back!

The streetcars just keep on coming (and in one case, going back). PCC 1053, painted to honor Brooklyn NY, arrived back in San Francisco April 1 (no foolin’) after being thoroughly rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of that company’s contract with Muni to renovate the 16 PCCs in Muni’s original F-line fleet. It was streetcars (or as they were often called in New York, trolleys) that famously inspired the nickname of Brooklyn’s professional baseball team, which was… — Read More

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Opening Day, with Car 1!

In a welcome surprise, Muni Operations assigned its flagship streetcar, vintage 1912 Car 1, to regular E-line service today, the first time that has happened since the E-line opened for seven-day service two years ago. It caught our usual coterie of fan-photographers off-guard, but we managed to catch a shot of it, above, pulling in to Muni Metro East at the end of the day. The special appearance was probably because of the Giants’ home opener at AT&T Park on… — Read More

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Boat from “Beach to Beach” May 6

UPDATE, April 6 — This event SOLD OUT in record time. We’ll announce future excursions through a blog post here or in our monthly email newsletter. To subscribe to either or both, click here. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary year of the Twin Peaks Tunnel with a special excursion along the streetcar lines it created. Though we’d love to go through the venerable tunnel itself, the overhead wires were converted years ago to allow only modern light rail vehicles. But… — Read More

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