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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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, August 1. (The past few weeks, 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 has filled in.)

It’s a fun ride, smooth as silk, and entertaining inside. Muni’s Euro PCC combines a Brussels interior (complete with signage in Flemish and French) with promotional ads about Zurich above the windows, and Zurich’s famous blue livery on the exterior. The car was turned into this hybrid when the Zurich-San Francisco Sister City Committee asked then-Mayor Gavin Newsom for a “Zurich” streetcar to join the fleet, and the idea of a genuine Zurich vintage tram had to be abandoned because their very narrow bodies and meter-gauge trucks could not be adapted for use in San Francisco (not that there were any offered to San Francisco in any event).

But hey, in San Francisco, we celebrate diversity, so come ride the “Zurles” tram (or is it Brussich?).

Meanwhile, there appears to be good news on Boat 228: the shop has taken the motors off the car and believe they can fix the problem that took it out of service within two more weeks. Muni Rail Maintenance Chief Randy Catanach passed along these photos of one of the trucks, before and after the shop team pressure washed it. That boat is going to look great when it’s back.

We do expect at least one of the two boats to operate on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8. We expect the Euro PCC to be out as well, along with the Melbourne tram(s!) and Muni’s famed 1912 Car 1, plus, of course the every popular 1896 “Dinky” 578 (although it can no longer traverse the route it’s signed for, “Ellis & O’Farrell” via Devisadero [cq]. Make sure you leave time to ride the buses and cable cars too!

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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 along the way, plus endless photos.
  • Quite a few people came into our museum and asked us when the boat would next be there.

Until this boat tram is updated with a low-voltage power supply, there’s no Muni GPS on the tram, so it doesn’t show up on Muni’s NextBus map. (The other boat tram, which Market Street Railway acquired for Muni in 2013, has already been updated with low-voltage, but is out of service this summer getting new wheels).

So, as an experiment, Market Street Railway has purchased a battery-powered consumer GPS unit, which should arrive later this week. We’re going to see if we can get it to shop up on our own live streetcar map.  We’ll let you know if we can get it working.

Meanwhile, come out every Tuesday and Wednesday through Labor Day to ride the boat. The first run from the Ferry Building will head for the Wharf about 11 a.m. Service will wrap up at about 5.

We’ll have a full report about the boat launch, with more great photos, in our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in June.

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Boat Tram About to Land

In this fantasy composite by Traci Cox, Boat Tram 228 approaches the Ferry Building in a different way, with Muni’s Robert Parks (lower right) overseeing training as usual.

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.

Headed downtown on Church Street, in Noe Valley. Jeremy Whiteman Photo.


Looping back at Pier 39. Note the Jolly Roger, traditional to this car, on the trolley rope at rear. Jeremy Whiteman photo.

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 few days, they’ve been training crews to operate it.

The boat will sail from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days of the week that Muni is able to provide operators right now. The last stop coming back will be our San Francisco Railway Museum (the Steuart Street stop on the F-line). The Chronicle’s SF Gate website gave it a nice writeup.

Our nonprofit (Market Street Railway) brought two of these boat trams to San Francisco and gave them to Muni (the other one is getting new wheels this summer). We appreciate Muni Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum launching the boat for the summer season. It will run at least through Labor Day and on Muni Heritage Weekend (September 7-8). We hope to keep it running a month longer, through Fleet Week. The best way to make that happen is to come down on a Tuesday or Wednesday for a ride (at regular Muni fares). Tuesdays are Ferry Building Farmers’ Market days, a bonus attraction. Wednesdays will feature the Off the Grid food trucks in the plaza opposite our museum (starting June 5). Great place to grab delicious food.

Because Tram 228 is still in its original 1934 state, it doesn’t have built-in GPS to show where it is on our live streetcar map. We have ordered a commercial GPS tracker in hopes that we can get it to interface with the map. If we can get it to work, it could be in place in time for the second week of operation. We’ll keep you updated on that.

Meantime, we really want your photos of the boat in action with crowds aboard. Post on Twitter, tagged #whereistheboat, and follow us at @sfmsr on Twitter and sfmsr on Instagram.

With your support, we can get the boats on track more often to delight more San Franciscans and visitors. (Psst: Making even a small donation to Market Street Railway would really help too.)

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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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Hear Mayor Art Agnos’ Inside Stories of Embarcadero Transformation March 21

Nothing has improved San Francisco more in the past 30 years than the transformation of its waterfront boulevard, The Embarcadero. The city’s mayor at the time, Art Agnos, bucked some strong special interests to achieve the removal of the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway in front of the Ferry Building, replacing it with a surface roadway, pedestrian promenade, and — of course — streetcar tracks. Mayor Agnos was aided in all this by his deputy mayor for transportation, the late Doug Wright… — 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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Broad “Daylight”

What a perfect Valentine’s Day gift to San Francisco. The return of a PCC whose livery has stolen a lot of hearts with its appropriate-for-the-day red coloring. Car 1061 is painted in tribute to Pacific Electric, the legendary Southern California system that once stretched from San Bernardino to Santa Monica, and from the San Fernando Valley to Newport Beach. P-E only had a handful of streamlined PCCs in its enormous fleet, and they were unique: double-ended, with front and center… — Read More

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Black Barrier-Breakers in San Francisco Transit

In recent decades, memorable African-American leaders have made history in San Francisco transit. There’s Curtis E. Green, Sr., the first black general manager of a major US transit agency. H. Welton Flynn, first black San Francisco City Commissioner, and leader of Muni’s governing boards for many years. Larry Martin, a powerful and persuasive head of Muni’s operators’ union. For this year’s Black History Month, we’ll reach back further in time, to highlight three women and one man who broke barriers… — Read More

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Muni: 106 and Counting

On December 28, 1912, Mayor James Rolph, Jr. took one of the first five cent pieces minted in San Francisco, put it into a farebox, pulled on his operator’s cap, and personally piloted it out Geary Street. It was the first run, on the first day, with the first streetcar owned by the public in a large American city. It was the birth of Muni. Today, Muni is celebrating with a post highlighting some of the great photos of their… — Read More

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Decorated Cable Cars, Now and Then

‘Tis the season to show off holiday spirit in all kinds of ways. The San Francisco Chronicle is both reporting and demonstrating that spirit with our most iconic transit vehicles, the cable cars. You can see the publication’s handiwork on Powell Cable Car 1 (pictured in the photo by Val Lupiz above, complete with Victorian-costumed guests), one of eight cable cars decorated this year in a growing campaign led by Val, Jeremy Whiteman, and Frank Zepeda (MSR members all), and supported… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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Decorate Streetcars and Cable Cars Nov. 24

Our historic streetcars are back at the Beach Yard (formerly Geneva) and this Saturday is decorating day! Both locations are covered facilities, so we will do our magic, rain or shine. We also have been invited to help decorate the Cable Cars at the Cable Car Barn that same afternoon. To join in the fun, you need to sign up at the link below. Here are the details: Beach Yard Saturday, November 24 from 10am-12:00pm. We will meet at 10am… — Read More

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All About Muni’s Archives, November 29

Join Market Street Railway as we dive into SFMTA’s fabulous photographic archives in the fourth installment of Inside Track–Live! Jeremy Menzies and Katy Guyon will guide us in an insider’s-view of SFMTA’s archival preservation department. When Muni took over our namesake, Market Street Railway, they got their photographic collection as well as the streetcars and car barns. Many of these photos came from their predecessor, United Railroads, taken by their staff photographer, John Henry Mentz, onto glass plates, with exceptional… — Read More

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