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 history in their archive. Take a look!

Oh, about that photo above. It was in the San Francisco Public Library, but had no label. No one knew when it was taken or what it represented. We did the research and pointed it out. It’s on Geary, headed west at Jones Street, and yes, that’s Mayor Rolph at the controller.

Happy Birthday, Muni!

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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 by Market Street Railway.

Leading the Powell Car 1 decorating for the Chronicle: columnists Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub, who teamed up earlier this year for the transit marathon they called “total Muni 2018”, meeting Val, Jeremy, and Frank in the process and getting drawn in to the web of cable car love!  As a result, Powell Car 1 features inventive decorations inside and out, including replicas of historic Chronicle front pages dating all the way back to 1865, 23 years before the Powell cable even existed! Heather wrote a great article about the decorating experience.

Not to be outdone, Peter Hartlaub, who regularly mines the Chronicle’s photo and story archives for gems of San Francisco history, came up with a “WHOA!” story, recounting a little-known Grinch moment in cable car history. Christmas season, 1951, Muni had just assumed control of the bankrupt California Street Cable Railroad Company and its California and O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde lines. Muni celebrated by inviting including Macy’s, to decorate cars on those lines. The Grinch glitch? The city’s ownership was challenged in court, keeping the decorated cars in the barn, never to be seen by the public, and delaying their city-run operation into 1952. Well worth a read!)

We can tell from the photo above, by the Chronicle’s Art Frisch, that the decorated cable car is from the O’Farrell, Jones, & Hyde lines, though the car number is covered up. Could it be Car 42? That’s the only surviving O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line car in its original 1906 configuration and livery, the one our nonprofit rescued from a cattle ranch near Santa Maria 15 years ago and restored with Muni’s expert help. It now runs in special service on California Street and sometimes Hyde, on part of its original route).

Macy’s sponsoring an O’Farrell car makes sense, since the O’Farrell line passed right in front of Macy’s…but it’s also ironic, since Macy’s was one of the downtown merchants that successfully lobbied to make O’Farrell one way a few years later, dooming the cable car line to make more room for automobiles.  (Here’s the story about the dark end of the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line in 1954.)

We at Market Street Railway are very proud to support the cable car celebrations. Beyond the decorating (which includes Powell Car 12 above, wearing the famed “White Front” 1930s livery of our namesake), we collected contributions to support this year’s holiday luncheon for seniors, co-sponsored by cable car operators and Transport Workers Local 250A (photo below).  

Come on downtown to see and ride the decorated cable cars this year, and don’t forget Car 56 on the California line, shown below in this magical nighttime photo by Traci Cox.  

Finally, along the F-line, look for Milan tram 1818, decorated in festive style by our volunteers, who also put wreaths on all the E- and F-line streetcars. (Yep, another great Traci Cox photo.)

If the holiday spirit moves you, please consider a tax-deductible year-end donation in any amount to our nonprofit. We get no government money; it’s your donations and memberships that make it all possible, along with everything else we do to support San Francisco’s cable cars and historic streetcars. Thanks and Happy Holidays, in the spirit of our namesake, Muni’s lively competitor before 1944!.

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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 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II). Below is another artist’s conception by Mr. Luck, which we have learned after first posting this, depicts the red livery of Prague.

 

The original Facebook poster of the photo, Philip Higgs, headed the preservation group Lancastrian Transport Trust, which acquired several cars from Blackpool Transport when that venerable operator greatly reduced its heritage fleet after acquiring modern trams (to their great credit, Blackpool Transport has reversed course and now offers vibrant heritage tram services much of the year).

Higgs writes in his post that in 2012, his group “was forced to reduce the size of its preserved vehicle collection and prior to Coronation 663 passing to a private owner for continued preservation, discussions took place with a USA based tramway operator to produce a semi open top car”.  Group member Alun Wylde then posted the green and cream photo as a comment, noting “Whilst the open top ruins the car, the Muni livery of green and cream wings quite suits it”.

We at Market Street Railway do not know who the “USA based tramway operator” was who had discussions about this Coronation tram. We don’t believe it was Muni. Mr. Higgs did not mention this concept to us two years later during our negotiations with him to purchase an actual original open-top boat tram (Car 233) from his group for preservation by Muni. Happily, Tram 663 was eventually transferred to the Blackpool Transport Trust, the nonprofit support group for Blackpool Transport, and is said to now be under restoration to its original appearance in England for eventual return to Blackpool’s rails. Here’s the story on that.

Here’s how the Coronations appear, as built. The glass skylight windows are cool, but if memory serves they can make the interior hot, even in seaside Blackpool. And the automatic controllers of these cars, known by the acronym VAMBAC, were notoriously unreliable in service.

As our regular reader/members know, acquiring a vintage streetcar and getting it roadworthy and maintainable in a modern US street operating environment is a protracted process.

In fact, we do not even start making a serious acquisition attempt until we have ascertained that Muni leadership will accept the streetcar and commit to its restoration and upkeep as resources allow (knowing that this sometimes takes many years). Once we have that assurance, we seek funding to cover acquisition and transport costs.

We specifically sought a second open-top boat tram because the first one we acquired for Muni in 1984, Car 228, has proven to be the most popular vehicle in Muni’s streetcar fleet whenever it appears on the street. Having a second genuine boat tram will ultimately allow reliable chartering and special operation of this car type regularly.

We were and are gratified that the Thoresen Foundation, responded positively to our outreach for funding for 233 with a generous grant and that FedEx helped underwrite shipping. (We detail this process because one commenter on the Blackpool group mused that we go off chasing streetcars whenever a “wealthy foundation” has an interest in a particular one. Uh, no.)

Boat Tram 233 has had all its electrical modifications completed, but now awaits truck work for regular operation. (It’s worth remembering that when transit agencies choose individual cars to retire from service, they naturally pick the ones that need work to stay in their own fleet.)  Muni has to fit in the work on 233 around regular maintenance and other historic car processes, so for now, the boat tram we acquired for Muni in 1984, No. 228, handles most appearances (although both were out for Heritage Weekend in September for the first time since 233’s initial display appearance in 2014, pictured below, 233 on the left).

We plan to work with Muni in the coming months to advocate for a schedule with more appearances during the good-weather months for the boats, which are the “people’s choice” as most popular cars in the historic fleet whenever they appear.

Meantime, that Wings fantasy livery…well, well…  🙂

 

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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 at Beach where Milan 1818 (shown decorated in a past year, above) will await our handiwork. All tools and supplies will be provided. The Beach Yard is located at San Jose & Geneva Avenues, adjacent to the old red brick Geneva Office Building located just down the hill from the Balboa Park Station. Walk in carefully where the tracks emerge from the building.  Both BART and Muni stop at this station. If you drive, there is limited parking in the neighborhood.

 

Cable Car Division Saturday, November 24 from 1-3pm. Under Gripman Val Lupiz’ direction we will decorate, appropriately, Market Street Railway “White Front” cable car 12 (shown above, last year) using decorations & supplies provided by MSR, Val and his crew. The entrance to the decorating area is on Washington Street uphill from Mason, where the cable cars leave the building. Parking in the neighborhood is near impossible, so we advise taking public transit. The 30 Stockton will get you within a couple of blocks as will the 1 California, and of course you can take a Cable Car right there!

Be aware, if you bring children, they will have to remain inside the streetcar/cable car at all times, as you will be in an active Muni facility. But there will be lots of activity to see from inside the cars.

If you’d like to join us, please use our sign up sheet here.

We hope you are able to help us make our cars look their festive best this year!

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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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Smoke Stops Cable Cars

UPDATE: The cable cars will remain out of service at least through Sunday, November 18. The deteriorating air quality around San Francisco Bay due to the smoke from the Camp Fire to the north has claimed another victim: the city’s cable cars. Muni pulled all the cable cars into the barn this afternoon (November 15) and replaced them with buses until air quality improves. Forecasters say that could be another week. In a sign of how serious Bay Area residents… — Read More

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“Full of Wonders”

The Chronicle‘s great columnist, Carl Nolte, spun a warm story today about October in the City — our most beautiful month. We’re illustrating it, fittingly, with this shot taken this afternoon of two orange Milan trams passing at Fifth and Market, with the venerable Chronicle tower in the background. Here’s some of what Carl feels is great about the City: Up close, the city is still something special, even on battered Market Street. Back from an errand last week, I hopped… — Read More

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Iron Monster Trucked to Fix Trucks

1914 Muni Car 162, which seemed on the cusp of returning to service after accident repairs that took more than four years, is starting a new round of repairs — this time on the trucks underneath the car. Friday morning (October 19), the irreplaceable Muni original, was trucked from Muni Metro East in Dogpatch across town to the heavy overhaul shops at Green Division, next to Balboa Park BART. It’s shown above squeezing past a tree into the Green Division… — Read More

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Pacific Electric PCC 1061 Headed Back to Muni

Rolling through Ames, Iowa today on the back of a trailer, one of our watchful members, Mike Joynt, spotted newly rebuilt PCC 1061, painted to honor Pacific Electric, on its way back to San Francisco following rebuilding by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. Mike wasn’t able to snap a photo, but here’s one of the car body emerging from Brookville’s paint shop a couple of months ago before its regular trucks were installed and the finishing touches applied. (Thanks to… — Read More

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Ride Hyde the Way it Used to Be!

From 1891 to 1954, double-end cable cars, almost identical to those on California Street, rambled from Market & O’Farrell streets through Union Square, the Tenderloin, and over Nob and Russian Hills to reach Hyde and Beach Streets near Aquatic Park. The City killed the inner part of that line and combined the outer part with one of the Powell Street cable lines to create the Powell-Hyde line in 1957. Now as a special event for San Francisco history buffs and… — Read More

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Heritage Weekend Has Later Start Time This Year  

Because of unforeseen events, Muni Heritage Weekend events will start later and finish later on September 8-9 this year. But there are still going to be very special happenings for transportation fans of all ages. A climate change protest will close Market Street late morning of Saturday, September 8 and a footrace sponsored by the Giants will close traffic lanes on The Embarcadero Sunday morning. Both these events were scheduled after our dates were locked down and there’s really nothing… — Read More

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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.… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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