In accordance with the directives from Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, all non-essential businesses, including our San Francisco Railway Museum, will be closed at least through April 7, in response to the COVID-19 virus.
We will continue to take orders for merchandise on our online store, above, but please understand it will take some time for us to fulfill those orders. Thank you for understanding.
We want to pay tribute to the operators of the E- and F-lines, and all Muni lines, who continue to move San Franciscans and visitors around our city. In our book, they are public heroes!
…that the F-Market streetcar line became the F-Market & Wharves streetcar line, with the opening of the extension from First and Market Streets to Jones and Beach, connecting Downtown to the Ferry Building, The Embarcadero, and Fisherman’s Wharf. On March 4, 2000, the extension created what we call the “Steel Triangle” of rail: the two Powell cable lines and the F-line.
Transit historian Peter Ehrlich, a longtime Market Street Railway member and retired F-line operator, has literally written the book on this, San Francisco’s F-line (the updated 2019 hardcover edition is available at our museum or online direct from the publisher. It’s also available on Amazon, here). He headlines the section on the extension opening, “Riders Quickly Overwhelm the Trolleys”. And did they ever. MSR President Rick Laubscher remembers riding the inaugural VIP car, Melbourne 496 (still faithfully plying the waterfront today) and hearing a reporter asking a top Muni official, “Will this car carry regular passengers?” The response: “No, we’re not going to use the old cars in service”. No sooner had the car gotten to the Wharf when line manager Ken Rodriguez ordered it into regular passenger service, to handle the crowds, which it did very well with its ample standing room and open design.
The extension opening also brought San Francisco its fleet of Milan trams. Market Street Railway had been advising Muni officials over and over that they didn’t have enough streetcars for Wharf service, given the huge popularity of the first phase of the permanent F-line, which opened from Castro to First Street on Market in 1995 (terminating at the old East Bay Terminal at Fremont and Mission, now the Salesforce Transit Center). If Muni brass of the day had listened, there would have been time to restore some of Muni’s retired PCCs to augment the 17 PCCs that opened the F-line. But they waited too long to act. As Ehrlich’s book points out, Rodriguez, a 27-year Muni veteran who worked his way up from operator to lead rail service, was intrigued by the 1928 Milan tram that had been acquired for the Trolley Festivals of the 1980s, and which had proved very reliable and popular in service. He took the initiative and acquired 10 more that Milan was retiring (even though they had been upgraded just a decade before).
The “new” Milan trams were rushed into service as the extension opened. Several of the vintage streetcars from Trolley Festival days made regular appearances on the F-line after the extension opened as well, including Muni’s own Car 1 and Car 130 from its original 1910s streetcar fleet, the aforementioned Melbourne 496, and New Orleans “Streetcar Named Desire” 952 (which was just out testing the other day following a long hiatus). The Milans and vintage cars held the fort until Muni could acquire 11 well-maintained PCCs from Newark, New Jersey in 2002 and modify them for San Francisco service, a move for which Market Street Railway led the advocacy.
Of course, the extended F-line has gone on to become the most popular traditional streetcar line in America, surpassing even New Orleans’ storied St. Charles line. And 16 years after the F-line extension opened, it was joined by the E-line extending south to the Giants’ Ballpark, Mission Bay, and Caltrain, providing a great option for visitors from the Peninsula to ride the train to the City and the streetcar to the Wharf, leaving their automobiles behind.
All year, Market Street Railway will be celebrating this double-anniversary (20 years for the extension, 25 for the F-line on Market in September). Watch for details, and Happy 20th to the Wharf service.
Can a tram be entrancing? Sure seemed that way yesterday at the ceremony at the foot of Market Street celebrating the elimination of private automobiles on San Francisco’s main thoroughfare.
After an opening serenade by eight-time cable car bell ringing champ Byron Cobb and a round of speeches that included Mayor London Breed, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, and several mobility advocates (from Walk SF, the Bicycle Coalition and MSR’s Rick Laubscher), the celebrants boarded the vehicle SFMTA chose to symbolize the new era of Market Street. Not 1912 Car 1, Muni’s flagship streetcar. Not a PCC, the stalwart streetcar of the F-line. But the streetcar that makes everyone smile, Car 228, one of Muni’s two 1934 open-top “Boat Trams” from Blackpool, England.
Might seem like a detail, but it’s important. New SFMTA boss Tumlin said again at the event how much he loves the Boat Trams. He has already said publicly that he hopes to see them operate even more this coming summer than the two-day-a-week operation of last summer.
This year, same thing. Just before the Boat Tram left the “dock” on Steuart Street, she encountered a group of senior citizens looking on in curiosity. She asked where they were headed; they said ‘Chinatown’, and she responded, “Hop on. We’ll let you off where the 30 bus crosses.” (Love a mayor who knows the routes.) The mayor herself was supposed to get off at Second Street, and the police motorcycles had stopped for that. But the mayor motioned them onward, riding two more blocks to Fourth Street.
Maybe that’s because she was being given impromptu instruction on operating the Boat by ace Muni motorman Angel Carvajal. At the parade beginning, she was invited to step on the air whistle to start the show, and she proceeded to stand next to Angel headed up Market. He told her that Mayors Feinstein and Lee had operated vintage streetcars in the past and asked if she would like to try. She did, with gusto, letting Angel handle the controller while she operated the brake valve, quite smoothly.
Bottom line: like a lot of “immigrants” over the past century and a half, the Boat Trams have found a lasting home here and are indisputably San Franciscan now. We at Market Street Railway are very proud that we brought both of them to San Francisco as gifts to Muni, and even prouder that they’ve become so beloved, not only by riders, but by SFMTA and city officials as well.
Gradually, we’re seeing more international streetcars making regular appearances on the E- and F-lines. Melbourne 496 (1929) was out in regular E-line service yesterday, while Brussels/Zurich “EuroPCC” 737 (1951) was on the F-line all day. And the boat itself starting picking up regular passengers after the mayor disembarked (at the direction of SFMTA transit chief Julie Kirschbaum), and then operated the rest of the day in regular service.
On December 28, 1912, ten shiny gray streetcars with brick-red roofs lined up on Geary Street, from Kearny Street to Grant Avenue. The first, Numbered 1 in gold leaf outlined in black, opened its black scissor gate. Up stepped the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, James Rolph, Jr.
From his pocket, he took a Liberty Head nickel, with a large “V” on the back (people knew back then that was the roman numeral for “five”). He nodded at conductor Nathan Rahn, in his crisp navy blue uniform, and dropped it into the firebox. It clanked. The press was told this 1912-S nickel was one of the first 40 ever minted at the San Francisco Mint at Fifth and Mission. The Mayor strode through the car, its crisp pale yellow rattan streets still pristine, its wood paneling still smelling of varnish.
Originally, the streetcars were to have been decorated, and the Municipal Band was supposed to be aboard the first car, playing its way along the line to the initial terminal at 33rd Avenue. The Mayor personally scotched this idea, saying, “Let’s get the cars going all right first, and toot our horn afterward”. Still, the crowd estimated at 50,000 San Franciscans roared for a speech from the mayor. He answered their call with these remarks:
“It is in reality the people’s road, built by the people and with the people’s money. The first cable road in the country was built in San Francisco, and now the first municipal railway of the country is built in San Francisco. Our operation of this road will be closely watched by the whole country. s must prove a success! … I want everyone to feel that it is but the nucleus of a mighty system of streetcar lines which will someday encompass the entire city.”
Mayor James Rolph, Jr., December 28, 1912
Mayor Rolph then joined Motorman Eugene Clisbee on the front platform of Car 1, gave the signal, and the streetcar inched forward through the swarms of people to loud cheers, and the silent salute of dozens of American flags hanging from the upper floors of surrounding buildings. Filled with dignitaries and (literal) hangers-on, Car 1 picked up speed as the crowd thinned, and by Jones Street, was making good time. A photographer snapped the shot below, with an escort automobile next to it. (That photo ended up in the San Francisco Public Library with a notation “date and location unknown”. Until our nonprofit recognized it for what it was, documented the location and event, and publicized it.)
While Mayor Rolph loved photo-ops, he was no one-block-and-off guy. He rode every inch of track, followed by the other cars that had lined up behind. Muni only owned ten streetcars initially, but just over two years later, they would be operating almost 200 streetcars on seven lines (plus two special lines for the 1915 exposition). With the opening of tunnels under San Francisco hills in 1918 and 1928, Rolph’s vision of city-wide Muni service would be achieved during his own tenure as mayor (he was elected governor in 1930).
Muni’s first ten streetcars were retired in 1951. Only Car 1 of this group was preserved, for possible static display in a museum. But in 1962, Muni craftworkers restored it to its original appearance to celebrate the Railway’s 50th anniversary, and it gave rides on Market Street for a nickel one week. This was the germ of an idea to operate historic streetcar service on our main street, brought to reality with the Historic Trolley Festivals of the 1980, which were the result of advocacy from early leaders of Market Street Railway (the nonprofit named for Muni’s old private competitor). The success of the Trolley Festivals led to the permanent F-Market line, which opened in 1995 and was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000, again thanks in large measure to the persistent and persuasive advocacy of Market Street Railway.
As for Car 1 itself, it began to rust and rot in the sun and rain after the covered storage sheds at Geneva Division were demolished in the 1980s. Market Street Railway advocated successfully for both restoration of this priceless vehicle and construction of protective covered storage for the historic streetcar fleet, both achieved around Muni’s centennial year of 2012.
Running any big-city transit agency is tough, to say the least. Running one in a high-density city with increasingly crowded streets is tougher yet. Despite the challenges, Muni’s leaders, with strong support from elected officials, have managed to turn one of America’s oldest transit fleets into one of its newest, and its greenest as well, in the past eight years. All while operating the nation’s largest fleet of vintage transit vehicles (cable cars as well as streetcars) in regular daily service, taking people where they want to go with delight.
Market Street Railway is proud to serve as Muni’s nonprofit preservation partner and salute it on its 107th anniversary. Please consider a year-end tax-deductible donation or membership to help us in our mission of preserving historic transit in San Francisco by clicking here. Thanks, and Happy 2020, everyone!
Source credit for opening day detail: “The People’s Railway” by Anthony Perles.
Your year-end tax-deductible donation will be DOUBLED thanks to a matching challenge from our board members. Please read on! Hard to believe that 2020 marks 25 years since the permanent F-line opened on Market Street, and 20 years since it was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf, where one of the famed Blackpool “Boat Trams” is pictured (both of the Boat Trams, we should mention, Market Street Railway acquired for Muni and paid to ship here). Muni is, of course, America’s first publicly-owned… — Read More
SFMTA has confirmed to us that Muni Heritage Weekend in 2020 will take place August 22-23. This is earlier than the past few years and should give opportunities for more families from out of town to attend. We expect a repeat of past years’ successful events, featuring streetcars, cable cars, and buses from 70-137 years old carrying happy riders along the streets of San Francisco, with our San Francisco Railway Museum at the center of the action. There are constraints… — Read More
Muni’s historic streetcars, and the people who love them, keep gaining media attention, both in their hometown, and far afield. For your Thanksgiving weekend reading pleasure, we’re sharing two stories from the San Francisco Chronicle, and its associated website, sfgate.com. Both stories show how the historic streetcars continue to attract new generations of fans, thanks in part to Market Street Railway’s continuing efforts aimed at exactly that goal. It’s a core part of our mission to keep the past present… — Read More
Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB), whose history is wonderfully summarized in the quoted sections below, which were originally posted on Facebook by the group Australian Rail Maps, which also provided the historic photo from 1991 above. The M&MTB built both of Muni’s W-class trams: W2 496 in 1929, and SW6 916 in 1946. (Muni also has W2 586, built in 1930, complete and in storage.) W-class trams are generally… — Read More
Seats are going fast for a first-time opportunity to tour the cable car system on the biggest cable car ever built: Sacramento-Clay “Big 19”, at 34 feet a full seven feet longer than Powell cars, and at 136 years, the oldest operating cable car in the world. And you can ride it on Mason and Hyde Streets, as well as California Street, in a four-hour exclusive charter on November 9, starting at 11 a.m., with lunch included from the famous Buena… — Read More
UPDATE, FRIDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 11 — The Boat is out today as well, a bonus day! The copy below has been adjusted to reflect this. Thanks to initiative by staff at SFMTA, led by Randy Catanach, chief of rail maintenance, one of Muni’s two 1934 Blackpool, England, open-top Boat Trams will cruise the waterfront from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Pier 39 on Fleet Week Weekend — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 11-13, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.… — Read More
SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum has approved the extension of summer Blackpool Boat Tram service through Fleet Week in mid-October. The boat will continue to operate from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on The Embarcadero between our San Francisco Railway Museum and Pier 39 every Tuesday and Wednesday through October 9. This is a welcome development, given the great popularity of the Boat Tram so far this summer. In last weekend’s Muni Heritage celebration, riders queued up for more… — Read More
Great first day for Muni Heritage Weekend. Most diverse group of vintage transit vehicles ever; biggest crowds ever; most visitors to our San Francisco Railway Museum ever. We’ll post most of the photos after Sunday’s action, but we want to make sure you see a few shots, and more importantly, these links: The Chronicle’s Steve Rubenstein looks at the first day’s action, with a focus on buses. And the Chron’s venerable “Native Son”, columnist Carl Nolte, pens a paean to… — Read More
Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7 and 8, is the best two days of the year when it comes to riding a wide range of vintage transit vehicles — streetcars, cable cars, trolley buses, and motor buses — ranging in age from 44 to 136 years! You literally cannot do that anywhere else in the world, at any time. And it’s also the best two days of the year to get your shopping done at our San Francisco Railway Museum, the… — Read More
September 7 and 8 are shaping up to be the best Muni Heritage Weekend ever! This year’s seventh annual event should feature two vintage rail vehicle debuts, plus a full roster of returning favorite streetcars, cable cars, and buses. All the action is centered at our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building at the F-line Steuart Street stop. (The one exception: the special cable cars, which will board one block away at California and… — Read More
For the first time in 77 years today, the biggest cable car in San Francisco (or anywhere for that matter) climbed “halfway to the stars” and back down again under cable power, in regular service conditions. The cable car known as “Big 19” for its size (seven feet longer than Powell Street Cable Car 19, and four feet longer than the California Street cable cars, previously the longest in the fleet) has been on the streets twice before in recent… — Read More