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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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 repairs instead of repairing it in-house.

Car 162 was unloaded at Muni Metro East in the morning of Monday, April 23, 2018. Close inspections will be performed to ensure all the mechanical and electrical components are functioning as they should be. Then, the car will be tested for 1,000 miles before reentering service. Simultaneously, Muni is “burning in” PCCs returning from their rebuilding at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania for the same 1,000 miles (Car 1050 is currently in that process, with Car 1053 awaiting its turn) and similarly testing newly arrived Siemens LRV-4s, of which 20+ are now on the property, with maybe half of those accepted. So it may take time to get the 162 on the street.

These photos were taken as the car was being unloaded; access to the interior was not available at that point, but it was clear that the cosmetic quality of the restoration is superb, with all seats stripped and freshly painted and varnished, and the headliner (ceiling) stripped and painted in the end sections, varnished in the center section.

We will have a feature article on the restoration of the 162 in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track. To get it, you’ve got to be a Member of Market Street Railway, so please take this opportunity to join us!

We hope that the 162 will be accepted in time to provide substantial days of service this summer on the E-Embarcadero line.

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Postgame Parade

162-1015 N beach copy

The Super Bowl ended this football season, but we’ll go into overtime for a minute to share a special football-related photo. We’re at the end of the N-Judah line at Ocean Beach. Based on the clues in the photo, it’s between 1955 and 1957. PCC “torpedo” No. 1015 is about to take the loop and head inbound. It’s been converted from double-end to single-end operation, hence the blocked-off doors you see.

On the stub track sit two “B type” original Muni streetcars, built in 1914 but recently “modernized” with conductor-operated doors on their rear platforms. We can’t tell the number of the car, on the right, but the one closer to us is No. 162. We know why it and its sibling are laying over from the yellow dash sign saying “Football Today – Kezar Stadium.” It’s probably a 49ers game (city high school games were played there too). Muni banked a couple of cars on the N-line terminal spur for postgame pickups. Other cars would switch back near Kezar on Carl Street to take fans home.

As mentioned last week, we’ve captured this distinctive dash sign on a tee shirt which you can buy at our San Francisco Railway Museum.  They’ll be up on our online store next week. (By the way, “shortest route” dates back to the pre-1944 days when Muni competed with our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, whose service to Kezar ran via Haight Street instead of the N-line’s faster Sunset Tunnel route.)

Kezar Tee shirt

It’s amazing that at least two of the three streetcars pictured in this 60 year old photo are preserved (heck, could be all three if that other one is No. 130). Well, maybe not so amazing…our organization and its founders successfully championed the preservation of the rare double-end PCCs Muni owned, such that seven of the ten are in service today! And we brought No. 162 back from a museum and began its restoration. (Today, we’re working with SFMTA to get the damage it suffered in an accident two years ago repaired. It is a slow process, but we won’t rest until it’s back on the street.)

Your support is what makes our work possible. Please consider donating or joining, and visit our museum for great displays, vintage film and photos, and great gifts too!

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E-Line Startup Looks Set for July 25

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

As readers of our member newsletter, Inside Track, learned last month, Muni’s second historic streetcar line, the long-awaited E-Embarcadero, now looks set to start up for initial weekend-only service on July 25.  Officials of SFMTA, Muni’s parent, were comfortable sharing that date with local blog Hoodline.

UPDATE: E-line startup moved to August 1.

The E-line, providing single-seat service the length of The Embarcadero, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Giants ballpark and the Caltrain Depot, has been a goal of Market Street Railway and other advocates for more than 20 years.  It will share F-line boarding platforms between the Wharf and Ferry Building, and use separate low-level platforms and ADA ramps (built ten years ago) at the four N- and T-line stops from Folsom to Caltrain. All stops will be fully accessible.

The weekend-only service will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with E-line cars running every 20 minutes. It will acquaint operators with the route and optimize the sharing of the trackage with the other lines that use it, while providing time to train the additional operators needed for full-time service.  Full seven-day service is expected to begin in early 2016.

The E-line has operated in special demonstration service on numerous weekends over the past decade, most intensively during the America’s Cup races in 2013. Because there is no loop track at the south end to turn single-end streetcars around, the E will be restricted to double-end vintage streetcars only.  Muni has seven double-end PCC streamliners (Nos. 1006-1011 and 1015) as well as several older vintage cars that are expected to see service, including 1912 Muni Car No. 1, 1914 Muni Car No. 130, 1928 Melbourne tram No. 496, and 1923 New Orleans “Desire” streetcar No. 952.  (The popular Blackpool boat trams function as single-end streetcars after modifications to make them ADA-compliant, and so will not be seen on the E-line, though we are hopeful of having them operate some trips on the F-line this summer.)

Market Street Railway has pledged to assist SFMTA with signage and docents at key stops to acquaint riders with the new weekend E-line service. We welcome volunteers, so if you’re interested in helping us get the word out about this exciting new service, just email us at volunteer@streetcar.org to let us know and give us your contact information.

Market Street Railway’s non-stop advocacy played a big role in making the E-line a reality. We depend on memberships and donations to carry out our mission of Preserving Historic Transit in San Francisco.  Please consider supporting us.  Thanks.

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