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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Muni Heritage Weekend Sept. 7-8

L-R, Marmon-Herrington trolley coach 776 (1950), Muni streetcar number 1 (1912), and White Motor Company gasoline bus 042 (1938), all of which spent their entire careers at Muni, are expected to carry passengers during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 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 rarely-seen vintage streetcars to offer free rides from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, including:  Muni 1 (1912); Market Street Railway “Dinky” 578 (1896); Melbourne 916 (1946, pending resolution of a persistent bearing problem); Brussels/”Zurich” 737 (1952); and Blackpool “boat tram” 228 (1934).

            Bus fans will again be able to ride beautifully restored 1956 Mack motor coach 2230, 1938 White motor coach 042, 1970 GM “New Look” 3287, 1975 AM General 4154, and vintage trolley coaches Marmon-Herrington 776 (1950) and Flyer 5300 (1975).  There may be a bus surprise or two. Stay tuned.

            Stay tuned, too, for what could be a big cable car surprise. For now, O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car 42 (1907) is again slated to be on the California line.

The last cable car pained authentically for the disappeared O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line, fully restored to its appearance of a century ago, should be on the California line on Heritage Weekend

If you’re a member of Market Street Railway’s Operator’s Circle ($250 or more annual support), plan to come to our San Francisco Railway museum at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 6, for our annual special reception and charter. (You can join or upgrade your membership here, or by sending an email to membership@streetcar.org.)

During the weekend, we’ll have special memorabilia available for sale at our San Francisco Railway Museum and other fun activities.

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Happy Centennial to One “L” of a Streetcar Line

The first L-line streetcars to reach the Beach were the “dinkies” bought for the E-Union line across town, shuttling only between West Portal and the sand dunes of outer Taraval. MSR Archive

On April 12, 1919, the first L-Taraval streetcar hit the rails, overcoming obstacles to begin a century of service that continues today.

The Twin Peaks Tunnel had opened fourteen months before, bringing fast streetcar service from downtown to the nearly empty southwestern quadrant of the city. Initially, there was just one line, the K, but property owners in the areas above and west of the tunnel, who had paid for its construction, expected – and demanded – more. So, Muni negotiated with the private United Railroads to share the tracks of URR’s little used Parkside line on Taraval Street between 20thand 33rdAvenues. URR wanted the city to share the Twin Peaks Tunnel in return for sharing this track and Ocean Avenue track for the K, line but the city refused and paid cash for the rights instead. Muni then laid tracks from West Portal via Ulloa Street, 15thAvenue, and Taraval to connect to the Parkside line tracks, allowing the L to open as far west as 33rd Avenue.

There was little development west of Twin Peaks in April 1919. United Railroads, by far the dominant transit company compared to the 6-year old Muni, did run downtown from the area, but by slow surface streets (Ocean Avenue and Mission to the south, 20th Avenue and Haight to the north), making it faster for downtown workers to take ferries from Oakland than to take the long way around Twin Peaks by streetcar. At first, the L streetcars stopped at West Portal, where riders had to transfer to K-line streetcars to . go through the tunnel and along Market Street. Muni used its full-sized streetcars for the L-line shuttles at first, but as soon as smaller “dinky” single-truck cars were delivered for Muni’s hill-climbing Union Street line in 1922, a few of them were dispatched to the L, where they were big enough to handle the still-sparse ridership.

By early 1923, the L-line tracks reached Ocean Beach across the sand dunes and by the end of that year, the shuttle was replaced by service through the tunnel to the Ferry Loop, using full-size streetcars. The Twin Peaks Tunnel service significantly accelerated the development of blocks along the new, fast streetcar lines, while blocks deeper in the central Sunset District languished as sand dunes, with only the odd house here or there. In 1928, the Muni matched the L-line on the northern edge of the Sunset by building the Sunset Tunnel under Buena Vista Park and opening the N-Judah line.

In 1937, Muni took advantage of federal funding through the Works Progress Administration to extend the L line south from 46thAvenue and Taraval to Wawona Street, very close to the popular zoo and Fleishhacker swimming pool, heightening competition with the competitor’s 12-line on Sloat Boulevard.

When Muni got its first five modern streetcars in 1939, they often dispatched them on the L-line (shown here at 22nd Avenue and Taraval on April 24, 1940). These cars, known as “Magic Carpets” because of their smooth ride, were the precursors of the PCC streetcars that later took over all Muni service and still run on the E and F lines today. SFTMA Archive
By 1938, the L-line (yellow line near bottom) had brought full development to Taraval Street and surrounding blocks between 21st and 29th Avenues, as shown in this aerial photograph, while blocks to the north, further removed from the fast streetcar service, were slower to develop. Harrison Ryker photograph, David Rumsey Collection.

Muni took over its competitor (renamed Market Street Railway in 1921) during World War II. The 12-line on Sloat Boulevard was included in the purchase. It featured a private right-of-way in the middle of that broad roadway, and could have been used as a tool to spur higher-density residential development on that corridor, if only the Sloat tracks had been connected at St. Francis Circle to use the Twin Peaks Tunnel. (The giant Parkmerced development at the south end of 19th Avenue, and the nearby Stonestown shopping center, which both arose after the war, benefitted from Muni’s adjacent M-Ocean View line, which used the tunnel, but had been little used after it opened in 1925 and had even been shut down for a time for lack of ridership.)

“Magic Carpet” Car 1001 has just turned from Ulloa Street into the Twin Peaks Tunnel on its L-line run around 1950, meeting an old-fashioned “Iron Monster” on the M-line. Both streetcars required two operators at that time by city ordinance, although the Magic Carpets were designed to be operable by a single operator, and were converted when voters allowed one-operator streetcars in 1954, likely saving the remaining streetcar lines. Robert McVay photo, Walter Rice Collection, MSR Archive

One factor that weighed against Muni keeping more streetcar lines in that period was rising labor costs. San Francisco voters had mandated two operators for each streetcar, although only one for a bus. This caused Muni to substitute buses for the outer ends of the K and L lines on nights and Sundays in the early 1950s, and studies were done to see if it was feasible to convert the Twin Peaks Tunnel to bus operation. (It wasn’t: too narrow.) Approval of single-operator streetcars in 1954 ended this existential threat to the L-line, and it has been an enduring part of Muni’s streetcar network ever since, converting to light rail vehicles in the early 1980s when the Twin Peaks Tunnel was connected to the new Muni Metro subway under Market Street.

PCC Streetcar 1039 leaves the L-line zoo terminal at 46th Avenue and Wawona Street shortly before modern LRVs took over the L-line in the early 1980s. The delay in opening the Market Street Subway meant the PCCs had to soldier on longer than intended, getting quite beat up. This particular car is one that Market Street Railway bought back from a museum, returning it to Muni, where it is stored for future restoration. George Locke photo, MSR Archive

More recently, Muni has moved to improve safety on Taraval Street by building boarding islands for L-line trains, and has shortened L-line trips by reducing the number of stops on Taraval.

Today, the Parkside District is a vibrant, diverse neighborhood made possible, and still kept moving, by the L-Taraval. Muni is planning various centennial events, which we will keep you informed of here. SFMTA’s Jeremy Menzies has dug into the archives for a great story, and the Examiner has a nice tribute to the L-line here.

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Welcome to our new site!

Led by our great volunteers Chris Arvin and Kat Siegal, we’ve revamped streetcar.org to have a fresh look and much more utility, especially for mobile users.

The freshest part of the new site is the live streetcar map created by Kat and Chris. You can read all about it in this story from the Examiner. Easier to use than our former map, it tells mobile users not only how far away the next streetcar is from their stop, but also which streetcar it is. And besides actual photos of the car, it shows these hopelessly cute icons that Chris and Kat designed. The icons are already getting a following of their own, so we’ve started producing sheets of stickers with the icons on them, available at our San Francisco Railway Museum. (We’ll be rolling out more merchandise with the icons soon; and Chris has some available now, here.)

There’s still a lot more to be done on the website. We’ll be creating a more focused history section that incorporates Chris’s wonderful Lost Streetcars website and ties it to stories of San Francisco’s transit history. And we’ll completely rebuild our online store to make it easier and faster for you to find great historic-transit-related merchandise. So check the site out now, and check back often.

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London Buses in SF: 1952

The librarian for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Van Niekerken, comes up with some dandy articles by digging through the newspaper’s voluminous archives. Somehow, we missed this great story and photos, showing three double-deck London Transport buses coming to, and driving through, San Francisco on a cross-country British tourism promotion in 1952. The photo above shows one of the RTL-type buses (predecessor to London Transport’s famed Routemasters) on Market Street at Eighth, sharing the street with three “Iron Monster” Muni… — Read More

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Remembering Cam Beach

Cameron Beach would have turned 70 today. San Francisco’s transit system would be better if he were still with us. But that wasn’t to be. On March 19, 2011, he died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time of his death, he was a member of SFMTA’s Board of Directors, having been appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007, following his retirement as Chief Operating Officer of Sacramento Regional Transit. On his 70th birthday, we want to share his… — Read More

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“Torpedoes” on the F-line

Muni’s biggest PCC streetcars have been nicknamed “torpedoes” by fans since shortly after they arrived in San Francisco in 1948. The 50’5″ behemoths are four feet longer than the far more numerous single-end PCC streamliners, and a full nine feet wide. The origin of the nickname is a bit obscure, but many think it derives from the sleekness of the design. There are seven of these cars in Muni’s vintage streetcar fleet. Three are currently being completely rebuilt at Brookville… — Read More

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10-Year Profile Picture Challenge

Posting old and current profile photos side by side has been the rage on Facebook of late, so we thought we’d post our own…just one of dozens of comparisons we could make that show just how wonderful Muni’s restoration of historic streetcars is. This car, 1009, admittedly needed more “plastic surgery” than most others. The photo from 10 years ago shows it ripped (not the good muscle kind, either) and slathered in blue protective paint after sitting out of service… — 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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Big Boost for Mid-Market F-line Loop

The US Department of Transportation has granted San Francisco $15 million to help pay for the first phase of the city’s vision to remake Market Street. Here’s the news story, and here’s the city’s official website for the project.   Included in that first phase is a critical improvement to the F-line historic streetcar service, shown above: a bi-directional loop track at Civic Center, using the short first block of McAllister Street and the northerly extension of Seventh Street (called… — Read More

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Muni’s “Fireplace”

Flash back a half-century or more, when the West Portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel was done up to resemble a giant brick fireplace, complements of local merchants. We see PCC Car 1010 about to plunge into the “hearth” on its trip downtown, emerging a few minutes later at Market and Castro Streets.  Did you know that San Francisco is getting Car 1010 as a belated holiday present in the new year? It’s being completely renovated at Brookville Equipment Company… — Read More

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Incredible Film: Cable Cars on Pacific Ave., 1929

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. A couple of months ago, we got a call asking whether we recognized the location of a film. We did — Pacific Avenue. We had never seen motion pictures of that line, which closed in 1929. Now, the video has been posted on YouTube, with additional information on the provenance of the film. It was professionally shot, with sound, by a Movietone Newsreel crew, which spent several days filming the line… — Read More

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Update: 916 Test Cut Short; Not Out the Rest of the Weekend

  Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The “newest” member of the vintage fleet, 1946 Melbourne Tram 916, came out this morning for what was supposed to be two 12-hour days of testing along The Embarcadero and the T-line as far as Muni Metro East, to check out its systems following a recent rebuilding of its trucks. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint in its… — Read More

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“Zurich” Car to Return To Service Soon?

Look what was testing in Cameron Beach Yard on Sunday (July 8). Car 737, Muni’s lone European-style PCC streetcar has been out of service for some time. Built in 1952 for Brussels, Belgium, acquired by Muni in 2004, and painted (at then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request) to honor San Francisco’s sister city of Zurich, Switzerland (which ran similar-looking cars) it has needed parts and maintenance attention. But when word came that the Mayor of Zurich was coming to San Francisco later… — 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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