F-line 25th anniversary merch!

https://www.streetcar.org/product/f-market-anniversary-print/

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.

https://www.streetcar.org/product/f-market-anniversary-enamel-pin/

These and an ever growing number of products celebrating historic transit -most of which you can’t find anywhere else – are available in our online store. Don’t forget our exclusive 2021 “Museums in Motion” calendar (next year’s gotta be better, right?) and to get us from here to there, our “Information Gladly Given” masks!

More than ever, our nonprofit depends on support from those who love the cable cars and historic streetcars to enable us to strengthen our advocacy to get them back on the streets of San Francisco as soon as it’s safe. Please consider even a small donation or membership. Thanks.

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Two transit pandemics

OFF YOU GO—A masked police officer leads two men away from a C-Geary-California streetcar at the Ferry Building during the 1918 flu pandemic. After mask wearing became mandatory, police arrested 100 men on one day alone at this location. A century later, masks are the rule again on Muni vehicles, this time for the Covid-19 pandemic. Colorized photo; original by Hamilton Henry Dobbin, California State Library.

The Bay Area’s transit agencies are slowly restoring service after deep cutbacks triggered by the shelter-in-place orders imposed in mid-March. Muni, for example, dropped from about 80 lines to just seven, with all rail service, including the historic streetcars and cable cars, suspended. San Franciscans have been ordered to wear masks whenever they’re in public places. (We have history-inspired masks at our store.)

We dug into newspaper archives to compare the impacts on San Francisco transit from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and today’s fight against Covid-19.

War and flu

As Fall 1918 began in San Francisco, the Chronicle and Examiner were both filled with reports of the Allied drive toward victory in Europe in what was then called the Great War. The stories filled page after page and went into minute detail. Another story was gaining daily headlines on the East Coast at the time, but getting short shrift here. On September 29, the Examiner ran a tiny story at the bottom of page 2: “BOSTON – At least 85,000 are ill from Spanish influenza in Massachusetts, and the death list is growing hourly…” This followed another small story three days earlier headlined “Two Suspected Cases Influenza are Found in S.F.”

SAFETY FIRST—A masked Muni bus operator at Kirkland Division, May 19, 2020. New Muni buses have plexiglass barriers between operators and passengers. Jeremy Menzies photo, SFMTA Archive.

Other than one outbreak in Seattle, blamed on visiting sailors, the West Coast had seen little of the influenza that was ravaging the East Coast and indeed most of the world. That Seattle outbreak, and similar ones in the east apparently triggered by sailors, may well have influenced San Francisco’s public health director, William Hassler, to quarantine all naval installations on September 21, even before a single case had been reported on the bases or in the city. According to John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, a history of the 1918 pandemic, Hassler “mobilized the entire city in advance, recruiting hundreds of drivers and volunteers and dividing the city into districts, each with its own medical personnel, phones, transport and supply, and emergency hospitals in schools and churches. He closed public places [including schools]. And far from the usual assurances that the disease was ordinary ‘la grippe,’ on October 22 the mayor, Hassler, the Red Cross, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Labor Council jointly declared in a full-page newspaper ad, ‘Wear a mask and save your life!’ claiming that it was ‘99% proof against influenza.’”

Masks on!

Two days later, masks were not just a recommendation. The city imposed what the Chronicle headlined as a “drastic new ordinance” requiring everyone to wear gauze masks in public “until the danger is past.” Violating the mask rule could bring fines ranging from $5 to $100 could be levied ($85-$2550 in today’s dollars), and up to ten days imprisonment. Though the news merited banner headlines, they were reserved for the second section of the newspaper, not Page One, where war news continued to dominate. The main article on the mask ordinance listed other emergency measures being taken, including opening “the Sacramento Street car barn…as a temporary hospital”. Presumably, this was the United Railroads’ cable car barn at Sacramento and Walnut Streets, which on April 18, 1906, housed (and thus saved) the cable cars now used on the Powell lines, but was not much used by the company then.

Advertisements in the newspapers seemed to convey the stressful times more than the news columns did. Department stores, including I. Magnin and O’Connor, Moffatt (where Macy’s is now) assured their patrons that they could shop “in perfect safety” because their clerks were wearing masks. A maker of loganberry juice touted it “for fever in influenza”. Pacific Telephone & Telegraph ran daily ads for a time, beseeching people to restrict their use of the phone in that pre-dial era because “of the large number of operators now absent because of illness” (as many as 700 at one point).

ON AND OFF—The second section front pages of the Chronicle, October 25 and November 22, 1918, announcing the beginning and (first) end of mandatory masking in San Francisco. The stories made it clear that many people deeply disliked wearing masks. Click to enlarge.

What we didn’t find in either newspaper was even a single mention of how the city’s transit companies were handling the mask ordinance. Police were given enforcement power in San Francisco. In Seattle, streetcar conductors were empowered to deny boarding to passengers without masks. But we found no indication that was imposed in San Francisco. We do know there was stern police enforcement. Reports on November 9 indicate the police courts were clogged with 1,000 “mask slackers,” including 100 at the Ferry Building alone. Most received the minimum fine, but one man was sentenced to 60 days in county jail for “denouncing the government and declaring he did not intend to wear a gauze mask.” Another man, who spit on the sidewalk when a cop told him to get a mask, got ten days behind bars.

Transit suffers

So, if there were altercations on San Francisco transit vehicles over mask wearing, we didn’t find newspaper coverage of them. We do know, however, that the flu clearly affected the transit system. A tiny story in the October 27 edition of the Examiner states that Muni receipts had dropped 20 percent from the preceding week. Muni Superintendent Fred Boeken told the paper, “People are not traveling any more than is actually necessary.” The article then noted “The Municipal car men have also been hit hard with influenza and 139 men have been reported sick.” That was a substantial portion of Muni’s workforce at the time. A November 28 article reported that Muni was considering raising its fare from five cents to six because of the revenue shortfall, but that never came to pass. That same article said the much larger United Railroads “suffered in proportion” to Muni, but offered no specifics. 

Meanwhile…

Our newspaper archive search also turned up some other transit news during that three-month period. We saw four articles about streetcars fatally striking pedestrians; all the motormen were arrested for manslaughter. A sailor fell off an E-Union line “dinky” (identical to preserved Car 578) at Larkin and Green and died. A woman riding in an automobile was killed when it plowed into an A-Geary car stopped for the C-line switch at 2nd Avenue. A 22-Fillmore United Railroads car had a fuse catch fire; URR management said the motorman panicked; the car ran away downhill from Haight to Duboce, where it jumped the track; 20 people were hurt. A California Street cable car hit a pedestrian inbound at Powell and then slid down the hill to Stockton, terrifying riders. United Railroads sued the city for building the outside tracks for Muni streetcars along Market Street, claiming violation of their franchise rights (they lost). But in the western part of town, URR had agreed to share tracks with Muni on part of Taraval and Junipero Serra to allow creation of the L-line and the extension of the K, and a contract was awarded in this period to rebuild those dilapidated tracks to Muni standards. The Board of Supervisors discussed a claim by R. C. Storrie & Co., the contractor of the newly-completed Twin Peaks Tunnel, against the city. (Storrie is the guy who named a street created above the tunnel alignment near Castro after himself.)

NO, SIR—A Seattle streetcar conductor denies boarding to a rider in this colorized 1918 photo. It is unclear whether streetcar conductors in San Francisco had similar authority.

In other news we saw, City Engineer M.M. O’Shaughnessy personally took an axe to a 150-foot tall fir at Hetch Hetchy to provide the city’s “Yuletide Tree” for Civic Center Plaza. The Examiner, which sponsored the tree, claimed it was the largest tree ever publicly erected at that time. A. P. Giannini bought a tavern at Powell and Market Streets, next to the cable car turntable, promising to replace it with a grand headquarters for Bank of Italy. That handsome building still flanks the turntable, now occupied by AT&T. Four prisoners escaped on a raft from Alcatraz, then a military prison. Breweries started closing after President Wilson signed the enabling legislation to impose Prohibition effective in June 1919. And the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling for a survey to bridge the Golden Gate, to include rail tracks. (The bridge finally opened, without tracks, in 1937.)

Masks off!

As mandatory masking kicked off, the Examiner ran a story on “fashion masks” for women. Cartoonists offered their good-humored take as well. But even as news columns reported the strongest examples of enforcement, a backlash quickly developed among some San Franciscans hostile toward the requirement. A group called the “Anti-Mask League” pressured politicians, including Mayor Rolph, to end the requirement. Health officer Hassler felt the pressure and introduced an ordinance to do just that, noting that his precautions, including the masks, had likely cut the number of cases and deaths in half. (The city’s reported flu death toll through November 20 was just under 2,000.)

“MASK-ER-RAIDING!”—October 27, 1918 Examiner cartoon as the mask ordinance went into effect.

At high noon on November 21, less than a month after masks were required, sirens and whistles sounded across the city and, virtually as one, San Franciscans unmasked. Hassler had urged people to keep their masks handy, just in case, but many if not most were immediately discarded into the streets. “Freedom to Breathe Ozone-Filled Air Brings Joy to Populace”, headlined the Chronicle, which also noted “libations were poured”. An Examiner headline read “Flu Mask Wearers Get ‘Bawling Out’” with the sub-headline “Those who do not doff gauze are ridiculed”, reporting that people who prudently kept their masks on were being mocked by strangers on the street. Examiner columnist “Annie Laurie” laid it on thick: “Didn’t you hate your mask? Didn’t you feel smothered and breathless—and shut up and tied down with a mask on?…The war is over, the flu is conquered. Our masks are off. Come, altogether, now – smile, smile, smile. And with that smile conquer fear and down pain and shake distrust and timorous caution to the four winds.” 

READY TO RUMBLE—On November 30, 1918, at 11:46am, Muni Car 71 (identical to preserved 130 and 162) on the K-Market line is ready to pull out from the Ferry Loop, bound for the Twin Peaks Tunnel and St. Francis Circle (the extension through the Ingleside District was still several months away). Behind it, United Railroads Car 212 is boarding passengers for a trip out the 3-Sutter-Jackson line to Pacific Heights. Though the mask ordinance had been repealed a week before, many people in the photo are still masked. John Henry Mentz photo for United Railroads; SFMTA Archive. Lots of great detail here; click to enlarge.

Two weeks later, the final wave of flu hit San Francisco hard. Yet it was clear to the political leadership that masks were hated, and they delayed re-imposing mandatory masking for a full month, until mid-January 1919. Many refused to comply with the second mask ordinance. The Anti-Mask League held a rally at Dreamland on January 24, drawing some 2,000 mask opponents. But by this time, the disease was waning of its own accord, having “burned through” a high percentage of people worldwide. San Francisco’s mask ordinance was rescinded in early February 1919, not to reappear for more than a century.

The toll

The final tally showed San Francisco’s total death toll above 3,200 (in a population of 550,000), the highest on the West Coast. While much has been written about the city’s pioneering embrace of mandatory masks, less has been said about Hassler’s early actions to restrict public gatherings. Cities that didn’t, most notably Philadelphia, suffered greatly. 

No one at the time understood that influenza, like Covid-19, is a virus. Few saw the health imperative of keeping people distanced from each other and, indeed, it was a practical impossibility. Few if any people could work from home; you had to go out to shop; only the wealthy could shun public transit for their private automobiles. So, almost all businesses stayed open and people kept riding the streetcars, although limiting their trips, as we have seen. 

As we post this story (which originally appeared in our member magazine Inside Track), masks remain required in public places in San Francisco and surrounding counties. After five months with no rail service at all, Muni tried to reopen its subway under Market Street only to shut it down again after a couple of days, in part because a positive Covid-19 test came back or a key employee in their rail operations center.

We look forward to the day when all San Francisco transit, including the historic streetcars and cable cars, can resume operation safely for both operators and passengers, and our San Francisco Railway Museum is allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, you can support our nonprofit by shopping at our online store and purchasing among other items, yes, masks.

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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, produce, and adequately distribute. The article quoted SFMTA head Jeff Tumlin as saying, “The cable cars require the operator to have the most direct interaction with passengers, and we have no way to protect our operators on cable cars.” In our own discussions with current and former cable car gripmen, they agree that any type of Plexiglas barrier to separate themselves from riders would be infeasible. Beyond that, any kind of social distancing among passengers would drive down capacity to single digits per car.

The Examiner followed with its own, longer article, offering more historic perspective on cable car operations through the eyes of MSR President Rick Laubscher. Beyond the cable cars, both articles noted that Muni has not set a timetable to return the historic streetcars to service on the F- and E-lines, either. A Muni spokeswoman, Erika Kato, noted that most streetcars lack the Plexiglass barriers that currently operational Muni buses have.

The double-end “Torpedo” PCCs already have a protective barrier for operators, as shown in this 2012 photo with operator Angel Carvajal. The top portion here is open and swung behind his seat. Similar barriers are feasible to install on the single-end PCCs.

But that’s a fixable issue. The seven double-end PCC streetcars (Cars 1006-11 and 1015) already have these barriers. The two Melbourne trams, 496 and 916 have operator doors, as does “EuroPCC” (Brussels/Zurich) 737. On the operational Milan trams (about six currently), some hardware is still in place for the Plexiglas barriers that were on those cars when they arrived here from Italy 20 years ago. (Muni removed those barriers.)  It would be straightforward to fit Plexiglas shields again.

The bulk of the F-line fleet is the single-ended streamliner “PCC” cars, which have stanchions already installed in the right location behind the operator, requiring only fitting of hardware and plexiglas.  It’s our understanding that maintenance and engineering have done some preliminary design work already, and have asked top management whether they wish these shields fitted.  But we are not aware of any actual installation work being authorized as of yet.

Muni has the maintenance staff to do this. They’re at work right now, and they have already caught up on the streetcar maintenance backlog during the shutdown (the cars look great; all seats like new, scratched glass replaced, paint touched up).  

It’s clear that Covid-19 is going to be in our midst awhile, so it makes sense to have these changes implemented on the streetcars now. If we wait to do this until it’s safe to resume service, it would likely be an additional 3-6 months to get them back on the street. We are actively advocating for this protective word on the streetcars to be done now. When that’s completed, and with the same social distancing guidelines as other Muni vehicles imposed, it would seem there’s no mechanical or health reason the streetcars couldn’t return.

At that point, it would be up to where we as a society stand against the virus, how much ridership has returned, and how important SFMTA and the City consider the needs of the visitor industry in San Francisco among their many competing priorities. But with cable cars likely blocked from returning for a longer time, the F-line in particular will become the transit lifeline connecting Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, Union Square, Civic Center, and the Castro. Operating it with historic streetcars would clearly send a message that San Francisco is committed to retaining its uniqueness and attractiveness to the world.

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You need this mask!

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. 

And now, it takes on special meaning, since many health officials recommend you minimize your talking in public proximity to others. What could be better than this?

You can only get it from us, in our online store. Don’t wait.

This mask joins our exclusive array of “Information Gladly Given…” products, including tee shirts (for both men and women), mugs, magnets, and stickers.

Every purchase supports our nonprofit’s efforts to advocate for the historic streetcars and cable cars and get them back on the street just as soon as it’s safe for operators and passengers.

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Muni Heritage Weekend postponed

The very popular annual Muni Heritage Weekend is being postponed at least into spring of 2021. No exact date has yet been sent for the rescheduled event. The postponement has seemed inevitable for weeks, given the course of Covid-19 through San Francisco, and the enduring shelter-in-place orders. SFMTA and Market Street Railway, which co-sponsor the event, agreed this week that it was not feasible to hold it on August 22-23, its scheduled 2020 dates. As a result, we’ve jointly set… — Read More

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Giving Tuesday: can you help?

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day promoted around the world to focus people’s attention on the needs of many kinds addressed by nonprofits. We at Market Street Railway know full well, especially right now, that there are urgent needs everywhere. We hope you’ll be able to spare a little something for charities in San Francisco, or wherever you’re reading this, that are helping with the Covid-19 pandemic or other human needs. We do want to let you know that Covid-19… — Read More

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Museum closed at least through mid-August

UPDATE: On June 28, the City and County of San Francisco announced that “indoor museums” may be cleared for opening around mid-August. The reopening of our museum will be likely be linked in some way to the resumption of F-line historic streetcar service. No date has yet been set for that; we will announce plans on this website when decisions are made. In accordance with the directives from Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, indoor… — Read More

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It was 20 years ago today…

…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… — Read More

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Boat Tram Marks Market Street’s New Era

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… — Read More

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107 Years Ago Today

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… — Read More

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Double your year-end donation!

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

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2020 Muni Heritage Weekend: August 22-23

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

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Two Great Streetcar Stories

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

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Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event

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

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Grab a seat on this unique cable car and feed the hungry

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

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