London Buses in SF: 1952

London RTL-type double-deck bus on Market Street at Eighth, 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 streetcars. The Whitcomb Hotel is on the left behind the bus, with the Fox Theater farther up the street on the right.

The London buses have New York bus license plates, as well as their own UK registration. And their roll signs read “GREETINGS FROM BRITAIN” in the square sign box, with “TO SAN FRANCISCO” in the rectangular box below. Presumably, that lower box could be changed to show whatever city they were currently visiting.

Because California’s overhead road clearances didn’t always anticipate vehicles this tall, they brought along telescoping poles that they could use to test the clearance before driving through. The photo below shows a tight squeeze going under the Southern Pacific Railroad trestle on El Camino Real in Colma. This is a particularly interesting photo. The old tracks for the 40-line interurban streetcar to San Mateo are still in place, and well south of the San Francisco city limits, we see a Muni White Company motor coach trailing the double-decker. That’s something of a mystery. During this period, Muni operated the developer-funded 76-Broadmoor line, connecting a new subdivision in Daly City to Muni lines in the city, but it never went this far south. (Maybe it was an escort vehicle, causing three steps behind the royalty of the double-decker.) There’s still a rail crossing at this point: BART, which took over the old SP right-of-way.

London double-decker squeezing under the Southern Pacific railroad trestle in Colma.

Muni did try out a double-decker bus at one point much later on, a demonstrator that didn’t catch on. For higher capacity, they chose articulated buses instead, or what the British, with their gift for great phrases, call “bendy-buses”.

And of course, double-deck buses are commonplace sights in San Francisco today, most of them open top tour buses. Tourists: don’t forget to come to the San Francisco Railway Museum to buy that sweatshirt that you DID forget at home! 🙂

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Remembering Cam Beach

Cam Beach with Muni’s oldest streetcar, 1896-vintage Car 578

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 story and his spirit with those who never knew him, and those who were among his many friends.

On the SFMTA board, Cam quickly won the respect of his fellow directors for his tremendous depth of knowledge and experience and his unswerving commitment to meeting the needs of the public. In an interview, he said, “I have always viewed issues from the user’s point of view.  How is the passenger or the motorist or the person looking for a parking place or the bicyclist or the pedestrian going to perceive our action?” He enjoyed great respect from employees across SFMTA, because they knew he understood the demands of their jobs, but also couldn’t be “bs’d” because of that detailed understanding of operations and maintenance. With a lifetime of knowledge about Muni, starting as a young rail and bus fan, you couldn’t fool Cam, and he in turn educated his fellow SFMTA Board members in a way that was insightful and optimistic, concentrating on the possibilities instead of just the shortcomings. Everyone who knew Cam knew he was a straight shooter, looking for positives wherever possible, refusing to play “gotcha” games and deal in oneupmanship.

First and foremost, Cam Beach was a San Franciscan, believing in the enduring promise of this city, while certainly not blind to its shortcomings. He was born January 26, 1949, at Letterman Hospital. He grew up in Cow Hollow, went to high school at Sacred Heart and Galileo, from which he graduated. Growing up in the city, he rode Muni everywhere, and became a lifelong fan of the system, incredibly knowledgeable about its history and operations. Even as he built a career and raised a family in Sacramento, his heart stayed here, and he was delighted to visit as much as possible, and finally relocate. Going out on foggy days from his West Portal home, Going out on foggy days, he’d sometimes wear a sweatshirt emblazoned “Old School San Francisco Native”.

Cam was a long-time Market Street Railway Member who joined our Board of Directors in 2001, even before he retired from his job Sacramento. Early in 2003, he was joined on our board by Carmen Clark, another transportation professional with deep experience in San Francisco. It was love at first sight. They married at Grace Cathedral and took a California Street cable car to their reception. It doesn’t get much more San Francisco than that.

Cam Beach and Carmen Clark

Though Cam left our board when he joined SFMTA’s in 2007, he never lost his love for the historic streetcars and cable cars. He recognized that they not only brought almost 50,000 people where they wanted to go every day, but they also helped Muni put its best foot forward to the public, something he believed was increasingly important. He was a strong supporter of increasing F-line streetcar service to meet rising demand, for the start up of the E-Embarcadero line, and the extension of service to Aquatic Park and Fort Mason.  

2007 Bus Rodeo

As his many friends know, Cam loved buses too, perhaps just as much. That’s why Market Street Railway was happy to support Muni’s motor coach maintenance team in its restoration of one of Cam’s favorite vehicle types, the Mack buses he grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. We paid for new tires and upholstery, things Muni couldn’t obtain through their regular channels. Now that the Mack is completely restored, we will be asking SFMTA to dedicate that coach, No. 2230, to Cam, as a complement to its naming of the historic streetcars’ home at Geneva and San Jose Avenues, as Cameron Beach Yard.

Restored 1956 Mack Coach 2230 at Levi’s Plaza

To further honor Cam’s memory, we are inviting our members and friends to make a donation to help us buy tires for the very historic bus Muni’s team is restoring now: a 1947 Twin Coach dual-engine bus bought by Muni for the express purpose of replacing the Powell Street cable cars. The arrogant actions of then-Mayor Roger Lapham in ordering the bus purchase were met by the people power led by Friedel Klussmann, the citizen who mobilized women and men to stop Lapham’s plan and save the Powell cable cars. This bus and its siblings ended up running on mostly minor Muni routes, but still retain a potent place in history for where they DIDN’T run.

Newspaper clip featuring the Twin Coach type now being restored at Muni

If you’d like to help remember Cam’s memory by contributing to the restoration of this bus, you can do so here, choose “Fleet Enhancement Fund”, and note in the box that your donation is in Cam’s memory. Thanks so much!

We at Market Street Railway are proud and honored that Carmen Clark today serves as our Board Chair. Her own decades-long commitment to better transit is reinforced, she says, by the many things she learned from Cam, and by his unswerving dedication to making Muni better. On her desk, she keeps a verse by Ralph Waldo Emerson she says reminds her of Cam’s virtues. We agree:

DEFINITION OF A SUCCESSFUL LIFE

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

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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 Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania. The other four have been fully engaged for the past few years causing the waterfront on the E-Embarcadero line between Fisherman’s Wharf and Oracle (formerly AT&T) Park and the Caltrain depot.

But the two-month shutdown of the E-line that started January 22 has seen the torpedoes reassigned to the F-line, which means they’re quite visible on Market Street and the northern Embarcadero, where their extra-large capacity is put to good use. At the top, Car 1011 passes Pier 23 Cafe (great place for an affordable meal and music on the waterfront, by the way), headed for another trip up Market to Castro Street, while below, Car 1009, painted in tribute to Dallas, crosses over Don Chee Way from The Embarcadero to Steuart Street, bound up Market at night.

When the E-reopens at the end of March, the four active torpedoes will shift back, so grab a ride up Market on one now! They’ll be joined by the end of this year by their three siblings currently at Brookville.

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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 for almost 30 years. But because it is a rare double-end PCC that can operate on lines such as the E-Embarcadero, where single-end cars can’t use the current southern terminal, Muni made the investment in restoration. Brookville Equipment Corporation of Pennsylvania did the work, as they have with all of Muni’s PCCs restored so far, and paid close attention to detail.

In keeping with the practice of the historic fleet, it was painted in the eye-popping red and cream of Dallas Terminal & Railway, which operated double-end PCCs in this livery after World War II.

Not many “facelifts” come out this well…and not many can say how much younger their photos look today than 10 years ago.

This is a big reason Market Street Railway exists. Our advocacy helped keep this streetcar from being scrapped decades ago, and helped get it selected for restoration 10 years ago. Your support makes us able to do things like this. Click here to help us. Thanks.

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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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Last Public Vintage Streetcar Charter of 2018: June 16

Much to our disappointment, Muni is suspending historic streetcar charters for seven months starting June 22, (except for our arrangements Operators’ Circle members charter on September 7). They cite, among other things, a shutdown of the T-line this fall due to construction of a new platform for the Warriors’ arena in Mission Bay. Whatever the merit of the reason, to the best of knowledge, there will be only one historic streetcar charter open to all Market Street Railway members and… — Read More

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Meet MSR Board Chair Carmen Clark April 17

Carmen Clark, pictured above with SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, is a long-time public transportation leader. She has served as executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, interim executive director of SFMTA (Muni) and has provided executive consulting services to numerous Bay Area and national public transit agency. We are delighted that she is the new chair of the Market Street Railway Board of Directors. Come meet Carmen for a casual, candid conversation about our organization’s goals… — Read More

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Colors, Forms of the F-line

San Francisco’s vintage streetcars, particularly the streamlined PCCs that provide most of the service on the E and F lines, keep attracting the eye of artists. We particularly like George Clapper, who we learned about the other day when we got a “pingback” request from another website, informing us that they had linked to our site. When we clicked on the link, our eyes were dazzled by a panoply of colors and shapes, photos by Mr. Clapper that show close-up… — Read More

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Visit Us at San Francisco History Days March 3-4

Visit the Old Mint on Fifth Street March 3-4 and join dozens of organizations, including Market Street Railway and SFMTA, celebrating and telling the stories of our City’s unique past. Meet community historians, archivists, genealogists, archaeologists, researchers, educators, re-enactors, and other history enthusiasts at this free event. Lots of details here. You can take the F-line to the Fifth Street stop, or BART or Muni Metro to Powell Street station. Great for kids too.  

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