What you’re looking at here is Muni maintenance folks applying decals the other day to Car 578, the oldest streetcar in Muni’s fleet, built in 1896. When Muni restored it to its original appearance in 1956, for the 50th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, the work was overseen by Charlie Smallwood, Muni maintenance manager and legendary San Francisco rail historian.
Charlie had a Muni sign painter reproduce the original lettering on the car, which was painted for one specific line, with the streets that it ran on listed on the letterboards above the side windows and the name of the line underneath the side windows. (Route numbers weren’t adopted until after 1906, and yes, “Devisadero” was spelled that way until 1909.) But when work was done on the car about 20 years ago, the hand-lettering on the sides was painted over. Now, it’s back, thanks to decals we designed and supplied to Muni. We thank them for applying them in time for Muni Heritage Weekend.
Also, in doing our own research to try to get the decals as accurate as possible, we reached out to ace historian Emiliano Echeverria, who sent us this notice from a Market Street Railway Manager in 1898 (!). As we said, the car was originally painted for the Ellis & O’Farrell line, in yellow. (Market Street Railway color coded its lines back then.)
On weekends, the old Market Street Railway needed extra cars to take people to the beach, on its subsidiary Ferries Park & Ocean Ry., a line out H Street (now Lincoln Way) that used blue streetcars. So they took three yellow cars, including the 578, issued the cars’ crews blue canvas with the other line’s details written on it, and hung it on the side of the car to cover “Ellis & O’Farrell Sts.” They also added an extra fare register to match the way things were done on the Ferries Park & Ocean line.
Whew. It sounds complicated now, and must have been back then as well, because when United Railroads took over the old Market Street Railway in 1902, they got rid of color-coded cars, painting all their streetcars and cable cars the same color and hanging removable dash signs on the end of the cars, using the old colors of the line. That started the tradition of dash signs on San Francisco streetcars that endured right through the end of Muni’s “Iron Monsters” in 1958!
Now that you know all this about Car 578, come ride it FREE Saturday and Sunday for Muni Heritage Weekend, Sept. 24-25, 10 am-4 pm. The rides start at our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street.