When Heritage Weekend got a gift from us

Sadly, Covid-19 caused cancellation of the 2020 Muni Heritage Weekend, but we can still look back. The first actual Heritage Weekend was in 2013, an outgrowth of the 2012 Muni Centennial Weekend. And Market Street Railway made sure it kicked off with a bang, delivering a second Blackpool Boat Tram to Muni all the way from England, thanks to the generous support of the Thoresen Foundation and shipping help from FedEx.

We took some video of both the inspection and operation of Boat Tram 233 at the Beamish Museum in northern England, where it was on loan from its then-owner, and of its very first operation in San Francisco, a trip from Cameron Beach Yard to our San Francisco Railway Museum on November 1, 2013, for Muni Heritage Weekend.

While you can’t ride a real boat tram here today, you can share virtual rides on two continents! Click the image below and enjoy!

You can see more great videos on our YouTube Channel.

One more time, we want to thank the Thoresen Foundation for its very generous support that made it possible for us to bring Boat Tram 233 to San Francisco!

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When the oldest streetcar was new

How old is the oldest electric streetcar in Muni’s historic fleet? So old that it regularly crossed paths with cable cars on Market Street. When “dinkies” (small, single truck streetcars) like preserved Car 578 were new, they were also novel, in that cable cars dominated San Francisco transit and had the exclusive rights to Market Street. The electric cars only saw Market when they crossed it. While they looked like cable cars, they were twice as fast and very high tech for the time, 120 years ago.

Two photographic glass plates recently found by Howard Jarvis (no, not the author of Prop. 13 for those who remember back that far) appear to make the dinkies central to the composition. The two photographs were clearly taken by the same photographer, probably within a few minutes of each other, from the same place, the second floor of a building at Ellis and Market, looking southeast across to Fourth Street. Based on other photos of the same intersection, these shots were taken between 1898 and 1900. One photograph is shifted a little to the right from the other one. We include several crops and a full image here.

In the crop at the top of the post, we see a dinky identical to Muni’s Car 578, built in 1896, crossing Market from Ellis to Fourth Street, headed south to the Southern Pacific Train Depot. (We can’t make out the full car number, though it doesn’t appear to be 578 itself but rather another in the bright-yellow fleet of Ellis-O’Farrell line cars, all built by Hammond, which also built many of the California Cable Cars still in Muni’s fleet today.)

In the close-up below, we see that the dinky is crossing behind a green Hayes Street cable car (later the 21-Hayes streetcar and then trolley bus), which is about to pass an establishment called “Midway Plaisance, Home of Burlesque” on its route to the newly-opened Ferry Building. First, though, it will roll past a small shop with a sign on its roof that says RATS in big letters and ROACHES, ANTS, and BEDBUGS in smaller ones. Really wish we could read the rest of it but we presume it’s an extermination business, located where the landmark Humboldt Bank Building rose a few years later.

The Humboldt Bank was designed more or less as a bookend to the Call Building at Third and Market, which dominates the full frame below when you zoom out (remember when “zoom” had nothing to do with quarantine communications?).

Fascinating to look at the people (you can click on the above photo to get a larger view). Scores of men and women clearly visible, but not a single bare head. Interesting signs in this image too, such as “Ohio Dental Parlors” occupying a large space on the second floor in the building at left. (Did Ohio have some kind of advanced dentistry?)

A crop of the second image, above, shifted slightly south, reveals a few additional things. First, there’s the beer wagon at the corner, passing under the store awning advertising “La Harmonia Cigars”. Beer and cigars were the most common advertisements seen in photos of this era, and by extension, presumably the most commonly consumed “vices” of the city of the day.

The dinky in this image is headed north, toward Golden Gate Park out Ellis and then O’Farrell Streets. There’s a cable car in the same place as the first photo but we can’t tell which line it’s assigned to. What can’t be missed though are the garish ads for “Original Uncle Bill Private Loan Offices”. Uncle will loan you money “from $1 up” “at the lowest rate”. And, highly unusual for that time, he’s “open Sundays”. If it’s not already clear that it’s a pawnshop, the sign “unredeemed pledges for sale” is a giveaway.

One other piece of San Francisco trivia. The second image makes it clear that the big billboard to the right is for Roos Brothers, “leading clothiers”, at 27-37 Kearny Street, two blocks away. That building, plus the one the ad is painted on, plus everything else visible in the above photo (except the Call Building), burned on April 18, 1906. But Roos Brothers survived as a family business and later relocated to a stylish store directly across the street from the billboard at Market and Stockton (shown in the Google Maps image below on the left as XXL). Then, after a merger, the firm built a new building across the street, exactly where its billboard stood in 1900 (that location is now occupied by Ross Dress for Less, the white building with the bulbed corner on the right.). The old Call Building is the only common object in the then-and-now photos, though it’s almost unrecognizable following its renovation into an Art Deco facade as the Central Tower in 1940 (it’s the white building on the right in the middle distance).

While this intersection today is eerily quiet with no streetcars on Market or cable cars a block away on Powell, it’s still some consolation to get a fresh look at pieces of the past when photos like this appear. Thanks to Mike Ahmadi, who works with Howard Jarvis and let us post these great shots. Mike runs a Facebook Group called “In Howard’s Barn”, which has other great vintage photo finds and offers very hi-res prints for sale. You can inquire at inhowardsbarn@gmail.com. And as wonderful as these vintage photos are, take a moment to imagine yourself there, experiencing it all in glorious color, starting with the bright yellow of the centerpiece, the Ellis-O’Farrell line dinky. We’ll help.

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Fabulous Fleet Week

The Navy’s Blue Angels were just a tad faster than the Boat Tram. Chris Arvin photo.

This year’s San Francisco Fleet Week (October 7-14) saw more vintage streetcars participating than ever. It all came together quickly, once SFMTA (Muni) was able to sign up operators for overtime work.

Muni’s 1934 Blackpool Boat Trams delighted riders with open-air rides in perfect weather past Navy Ships tied up along the Embarcadero. Some lucky riders, like our Board member Chris Arvin, got to see the Navy’s famed Blue Angels flight team streak by as they rumbled along the pavement on the Boat.

Melbourne Tram 496 patrolling the E-Embarcadero line serving all the Fleet Week ships. Steve Souza photo.

Melbourne Tram 496, celebrating its 90th birthday, ran the E-Embarcadero line for several days, passing its country’s new destroyer HMAS Brisbane, berthed at Pier 17. And while there were no ships from the Swiss Navy in port this year for Fleet Week, “EuroPCC” 737, painted to honor San Francisco’s sister city Zurich, ran the full F-line a couple of days.

“EuroPCC” 737 poses at the Ferry Building along with vintage streetcar trainer extraordinaire Robert Parks.

We will be working closely with Fleet Week leaders and SFMTA to try to make next year’s event even better, from a streetcar participation perspective. Thanks for this year’s help to Randy Catanach, SFMTA chief of rail maintenance; Craig Raphael of special transit operations, and Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum.

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Boat Tram Sails Again

Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 is scheduled to resume its special service on the waterfront Tuesday, August 13 at 11 a.m., following a time in “dry dock” for motor repairs. You can ride the boat Tuesdays and Wednesdays the rest of August and into September between our San Francisco Railway Museum (across from the Ferry Building) and Fisherman’s Wharf between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

While the Muni shops were fixing the motor problem, the shops also replaced the clouded old plexiglass windshields with fresh new ones. Longer-term, they’ll install split glass windshields like the other boat tram has.

Hope you enjoyed the vintage streetcars that pinch-hit for the boat the past few weeks: the Melbourne tram and the EuroPCC. You’ll see them both, and many others, during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Melbourne Tram Subs for Boat This Week

The popular 1934 Blackpool (England) open-topped “Boat Tram” encountered a problem at the end of its service week last Wednesday and is being worked on this week, so 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for it on the special waterfront service Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Muni assures us they’ll make every effort to return Boat service as quickly as possible. The Melbourne tram is a sweet ride, and with windows that drop all the way… — 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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Double Dose of Down Under This Weekend

UPDATE, Saturday July 21, 11:00 a.m. — Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The 916 developed a hot wheel bearing this morning and has safely returned to Cameron Beach Yard, where it will be fixed by the maintenance team. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint, and they’re excited about taking it out again soon, though it will almost certainly not be out Sunday, July 22.… — Read More

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“The bell is charming; the horn works”

  The headline above is a great quote from a great story in Curbed SF about a dad and his two kids riding every Muni line terminal to terminal this summer. This installment includes the F-line where they rode the newest PCC to return to service following rebuilding, Car 1050 (pictured above in yet another calendar-worthy photo from Traci Cox). The author, Mc Allen, describes rolling along The Embarcadero on the “retro delight” PCC, “exceptionally maintained as rolling museums”. Along… — 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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Welcome Home, 162!

One of Muni’s original streetcars, Car 162, built in 1914 by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio, returned to San Francisco today following extensive accident repairs by the firm of Carlos Guzman, Inc. in Signal Hill, near Long Beach. The streetcar was badly damaged on January 4, 2014, when it collided with a semi-truck that ran a red light in front of the streetcar on The Embarcadero at Bay Street. Muni elected to send the car to a contractor for… — Read More

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Brooklyn is Back!

The streetcars just keep on coming (and in one case, going back). PCC 1053, painted to honor Brooklyn NY, arrived back in San Francisco April 1 (no foolin’) after being thoroughly rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of that company’s contract with Muni to renovate the 16 PCCs in Muni’s original F-line fleet. It was streetcars (or as they were often called in New York, trolleys) that famously inspired the nickname of Brooklyn’s professional baseball team, which was… — Read More

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Boat from “Beach to Beach” May 6

UPDATE, April 6 — This event SOLD OUT in record time. We’ll announce future excursions through a blog post here or in our monthly email newsletter. To subscribe to either or both, click here. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary year of the Twin Peaks Tunnel with a special excursion along the streetcar lines it created. Though we’d love to go through the venerable tunnel itself, the overhead wires were converted years ago to allow only modern light rail vehicles. But… — Read More

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“Trackless Trolleys”?

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at… — Read More

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“Newest” PCC Streetcar Collides with Truck

Around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the newest PCC streetcar to reenter regular service following a complete rebuilding collided with a large box truck while returning to the carbarn after completing its day’s work on the F-line. The impact knocked the streetcar, No. 1063 (painted to honor Baltimore Transit), off the track and turned the truck on its side. No injuries had been reported by the time this post was made. The streetcar had no passengers aboard at the… — Read More

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