Celebrating F-line enablers this Pride Month

There would be no F-line today without the concerted effort of a group of advocates and enablers in the early 1980s. Many of them were openly gay. No better time to celebrate their achievements than Pride Month.

That list simply has to start with Maurice Klebolt, a force of nature. Klebolt, who came to San Francisco from Chicago, ran a one-man travel agency, served as a part-time Muni operator, and cultivated elected officials on a single issue: operating historic streetcars on Market Street after regular streetcar service on the J, K, L, M, and N lines went underground with the opening of the Muni Metro Subway in the early 1980s. Others talked about it and began to plan for it, but Klebolt believed in actually DOING something instead. And did he ever. This story from the San Francisco Chronicle captures his activism perfectly.

Maurice Klebolt (left) with the Hamburg streetcar he brought to San Francisco, flanked by then-Muni General Manager Harold Geissenheimer in about 1984. MSR Archive

Klebolt and then-downtown business executive Rick Laubscher, who mobilized that community through the Chamber of Commerce, teamed up in something of a “Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside” pairing to win acceptance of a proof of concept in the form of a summer “Historic Trolley Festival” in 1983, which was renewed for a total of five seasons and built public support for the permanent F-line in 1995 and its extension to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000.

Klebolt brought numerous international vintage streetcars to San Francisco for Muni’s fleet, and led the charge to grow the new, seven-member nonprofit known as Market Street Railway into a vibrant membership organization by personally shaking down – er, soliciting – everyone he know (and many he didn’t) for what were then $10 memberships. that remains in Muni’s fleet (and remains in need of restoration). Maury’s untimely death in 1988 at just 58 left a real void, but the success of the Trolley Festivals had put a permanent F-line squarely on City Hall’s agenda. Read our tribute to him here, with more hard-to-believe (but true) tales, including his personal version of Cold War-era glasnost.

“Streetcar Named Desire for Peace”, Moscow/Orel Car 106, brought to San Francisco by Maurice Klebolt, participated in a 1992 parade honoring San Francisco’s centennial of streetcars. MSR Archive

While Klebolt may have been the most visible openly gay man associated with the creation of the F-line, several others played very significant roles. The solid and enduring support of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein was essential to the Trolley Festivals and permanent F-line, but the implementation of her wishes was carried out by her top transportation staff member, Alan Lubliner. Alan’s attention to detail and follow-through kept the project progressing, even when some inside Muni and other city agencies didn’t see the urgency of action. Alan went on to a very successful career in New York with the transportation consulting firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff (now WSP).

The city’s nonprofit partner in facilitating the first two Trolley Festivals was the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce (Market Street Railway took on that role starting in the third year). Lee Knight led the internal Chamber team that made dozens of arrangements on a faster schedule than the City’s procedures would allow. Lee later joined Muni’s then-parent, the city’s Public Utilities Commission as planning manager, before his life was tragically cut short by AIDS.

Once in operation, the spirit of the Trolley Festival was definitively captured by the senior motorman operating the vintage streetcars, Jack Smith, the son of one of San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar operators. Jack literally learned the craft of piloting streetcars at his father’s knee. His encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco transit history and his unquestioned expertise in streetcar operation was looked up to by the other operators and by management as well. After his retirement from Muni, he served on Market Street Railway’s board of directors with distinction for several years, and was a long-time volunteer on restoration activities of our organization, focused on original San Francisco streetcars. Here’s how we remembered him after his unexpected passing in 2004, at age 72.

Motorman extraordinaire Jack Smith (left), who could operate any streetcar (or cable car), including the complicated Russian Tram 106, at first sight, receives a mock “tribute” from Maurice Klebolt, who brought the tram from Russia, at 17th and Castro in 1987. MSR Archive

There were many other members of the LGBTQ community that played positive roles in the Trolley Festival, particularly residents and merchants the Castro’s District, whose embrace of the vintage streetcars were a significant boost to their success. The Festival streetcars had to go where tracks already were, making Castro Street the logical terminal. Several gay business groups came together to issue a guide to introduce streetcar riders to neighborhood businesses. A booster committee was formed, led by a gay man named Robert Hunter, who asked the Chamber if they could create their own poster. Of course, came the reply. We have recently been offered a mint-condition copy of this artifact and offer this rough photograph we’ve been sent here.

And speaking of posters, we celebrate John Wullbrandt, then a young San Francisco artist who had done whimsical posters of a PCC and a cable car when we approached him to create posters for the first two Trolley Festivals. John raised the money from two other gay men, Bob Campbell and Joe Caplett, and we gained wonderful promotional tools. John is now a renowned fine artist based near Santa Barbara. We offer John’s 1984 poster of famous San Franciscans riding the Boat Tram (shown below) in our online store and at our museum store. The Chamber of Commerce focused on patronizing LGBTQ businesses for the promotional services needed for the Trolley Festivals, including purchasing signage from a small business on Brady Street, Budget Signs, owned by a young gay man named Mark Leno, who went on to a very successful political career in San Francisco and Sacramento.

Beyond the openly LGBTQ people who helped enable the F-line to become reality, there were other prominent people involved who chose not to reveal their sexual orientation during their lifetimes, and we honor that choice. But their contributions are certainly remembered and appreciated. (Anytime one attempts recognizing people who contributed to a team effort, there is always the risk of missing someone. We apologize if so.)

The historic streetcars have always been wildly popular in the Castro District, from the first article we remember being written about them in a local gay publication (with the headline “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” from Judy Garland’s ‘Trolley Song’) to loud complaints from merchants and residents when F-line service was threatened with extended interruptions. On several occasions, vintage streetcars have taken pride of place in the annual Pride Parade, something we hope will happen again in the future.

During the Trolley Festival’s first year, 1983, both the Blackpool Boat Tram and Muni’s very first streetcar, Car 1, participated in the Pride Parade. MSR Archive

On a national and international level, many gay men took leadership roles in rescuing streetcars from the scrap heap starting after World War II, and in creating museums to operate them. They did this in an era when coming out was to risk severe professional and personal consequences, so they often did not reveal their preferences. But you can see their legacy in museums all over the world. Our nonprofit has likewise benefited by the work of openly gay folks who have served on our board, among them Maury, Jack, Steve Ferrario, and our longtime board member and secretary, Art Curtis, who worked his way up from PCC operator to Chief Inspector at Muni.

Today of course, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is headed by a gay man, Jeff Tumlin, a San Franciscan for 30 years and frequent F-line rider. Its board of directors currently includes out small business leader Manny Yekutiel and has had other prominent LGBTQ leaders in the recent past, including former State Senator and State Democratic Party Chair Art Torres, and long-time board Chair Tom Nolan, who was previously a San Mateo County Supervisor. Indeed, at all levels, from front line workers to leadership to governance, the LGBTQ community is extensively represented at SFMTA.

Happy Pride Month!

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Boat Tram, Dinky both ‘fan favorites’

Our dual vintage streetcar popularity contests have yielded two ‘winners’, though in fact every one of the 32 streetcars in the polls put together by our board member, Chris Arvin, drew love from fans of historic transit from around the world.

The same “brackets” of 32 streetcars were set up on our Twitter account and on our Facebook group. The winner of each first-round matchup advanced to the second round, until we had two finalists. In both polls, the finals were between the 1934 Blackpool, England “boat tram” and the 1896 San Francisco “dinky”, but voters in the two polls selected different winners.

In the Twitter poll, 64% of voters chose the Boat vs. 36% for the Dinky. In the Facebook poll, the Dinky garnered 68% of the vote to the Boat’s 32%. Overall, because more people voted on Twitter than on Facebook, the Boat came out on top by a margin of 57%-43%.

So we hail both of these venerable streetcars, the 87-year old Boat and the 115-year old Dinky. That’s more than 200 years of streetcar beauty combined.

Here are the finished brackets for both the Twitter and Facebook polls. You’ll see some differences in the outcome of the rounds leading up to the finals. For example, the “Mint Milano” (green paint scheme on the popular 1928 Italian trams) faced off against the Boat in the Twitter semi-finals, while the last PCC built in North America, Muni’s own Car 1040, earned that spot in the Facebook poll (and was just barely beaten in that round by the Boat). In both polls, the other semi-final matchup was the Dinky against the very first streetcar Muni owned, Car 1, built in 1912. Many fans commented it was just too hard for them to choose between these most historic symbols of our city. Click to enlarge the brackets.

Twitter bracket – Boat Tram wins in final round
Facebook bracket — Dinky wins in final round

Thanks to all who participated, and if you missed this first contest, stay tuned. We’ll have additional ones down ther road!

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Boat or Dinky: which will win?

So we’ve been running a fun little contest on our Twitter account and our Facebook group. It’s an idea from our board member Chris Arvin to let people pick their “fan favorite streetcar” – however each person wants to define “favorite”. It was set up as an NCAA-style bracket, where you start with 32 teams, er, streetcars, and pit them against each other in pairs, where the one receiving the most votes in each matchup moves on to the next round, until you’re down to the Final Four, and then, the last two.

To see if there are differences between our audience on Twitter and that on Facebook, we’re actually running separate contests, using the same brackets. There were some differences in winners in the preliminary rounds between the two platforms’ audiences, but on both, the finals came down to the 1896 single-truck “Dinky”, the oldest passenger streetcar still operated by a North American transit agency, and the 1934 Blackpool, England “Boat Tram), whose open top and jaunty whistle has turned heads and generated smiles for decades in San Francisco.

The Twitter poll will close at Noon (Pacific Time) on Thursday, June 3, but we’ll keep our Facebook group poll open through the weekend to give people who haven’t participated in the contest yet a chance to vote in the finals.

We’ll share the final bracket results for both platforms here after all voting is finished.

We’ve heard from a few folks that it’s unfair that they should have to vote between two streetcars they love at any point in the contest, even more so as we’ve moved through the “Sweet Sixteen”, “Elite Eight”, and “Final Four”. It makes us happy to know so many people love so many different streetcars. And after all, it’s not like the streetcars get retired if they lose. There’s always another day.

In fact, we’re thinking of running a separate contest down the road just for the 32 PCCs, with all those colorful liveries. And maybe a separate one for just the older (pre-World War II) vintage cars. Stay tuned, and if you haven’t voted, please do!

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Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

Smiles are breaking out along the city’s waterfront and along Market Street, as Muni’s vintage streetcars are out in force for the first time in more than a year. The F-line is running a full test schedule, including pull-outs and pull-ins along the J-Church line, in advance of the official reopening of the line for passenger service on May 15. Initial service will run seven days a week, but just eight hours a day (11 am-7 pm) initially, running the whole route from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf.

EXTRA smiles popped out today with refresher training on two of Muni’s most popular vintage streetcars, including the oldest operating passenger streetcar in America, single-truck “Dinky” 578, which celebrates its 125th birthday at the end of the summer. The great shot above, on the Castro curve at 17th and Market, comes from Jeremy Whiteman.

Traci Cox, normally a master of the low-angle shot, checks in with an “above-it-all” shot of Boat Tram 228 cruising along Church behind a new Siemens LRV, with PCC 1071 in its yellow Minneapolis-St. Paul livery, headed toward its F-line test run.

Here are some other great shots from today. It feels a lot different — and better — on the streets of San Francisco now. The colorful F-line cars make a huge difference.

Cincinnati “Bumblebee” 1057 at the Castro terminal. Peter Straus photo
Chicago “Green Hornet” 1058 on Upper Market. Peter Straus photo
Boston PCC 1059 at Powell, with Cable Car 24 on display on Willie Mays’ 90th birthday. Val Lupiz photo
Philadelphia “Cream Cheese” PCC 1060 at Westfield Centre. Val Lupiz photo

And to finish, c’mon, you know you want to see another boat photo. Here’s a great one to end with, another Traci Cox high angle shot on San Jose Avenue, as the boat tram headed back to Cameron Beach Yard today.

And don’t forget you can vote for your favorite streetcar right now! Click here to learn more!

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Unique gifts for SF transit fans

Our online store is the place to get transit-related San Francisco gifts you can’t find anywhere else. And with our physical museum across from the Ferry Building closed by the pandemic, the online store is the ONLY place to find these unique items. Take a look at the wonderful array of gifts for everyone on your list. Big or small, we have it all, from apparel and books to cute little stocking stuffers! Don’t hesitate – we have a limited… — Read More

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Uncovering Cal Cable’s past

Constructing a new form of transportation for San Francisco, workers uncovered an old one the other day. Contractors building the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project scraped away asphalt to find the vertical curve of the original California Street cable car line bending westward and upward towards Franklin Street. Below, that same block, with a cable car descending the hill on this same track, before the Cal line was savagely cut in half on December 30, 1956 (a dark… — Read More

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F-line 25th anniversary merch!

With San Francisco’s historic streetcars still shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we can’t take an actual ride to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the permanent F-Market line, but we can get some virtual thrills with these two new merchandise items, designed by Chris Arvin. Above, a poster with Chris’s iconic, er, icons that playfully visualize some of Muni’s historic streetcar fleet. Below, a pin featuring a PCC in original Muni livery. These and an ever growing number of… — Read More

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When will the cable cars and streetcars return?

The short answer is: we don’t know; it’s up to the virus and what we all do together to shorten its grip on our society. But Muni can be ready for that day, and we’re encouraging them to do so. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the other day that cable car operations would likely not resume “until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available”, which health experts think could likely take a least a year, and possibly much longer, to create,… — Read More

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You need this mask!

“Information Gladly Given, But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.”

Countless San Francisco commuters have probably taken a few moments to ponder this simple statement, which has been posted near the operator’s station of every Muni bus and streetcar since the early 1960s.

The message is simultaneously friendly and forbidding, inviting yet indifferent, personable yet coldly professional. Now it’s available as an adult face mask, when its message is oh so relevant.

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