Market Street Railway celebrates the life of Jack Smith, streetcar motorman extraordinaire, Market Street Railway Director Emeritus, and dedicated restoration volunteer, who died suddenly at his San Francisco home September 18, 2004. He was 72.
Jack Smith was the son of one of the first African-American motormen hired by our namesake, Muni’s former privately-owned competitor, the Market Street Railway Company. After spending time as a merchant seaman, Jack joined Muni and became a legend for his expert handling of rail equipment, both cable cars and streetcars.
After his retirement, he served on Market Street Railway’s board of directors with distinction for several years, and was a long-time volunteer on restoration activities of our organization. He was also a great storyteller, a kind soul, and a gay man unafraid to live his life as he wished, even when that was difficult to do.
Less than a week before his death, Jack stood proudly aboard Muni No. 162 as it made its way under assisted tow from Market Street Railway’s David L. Pharr restoration facility to Muni’s Geneva Shops for the next steps in its restoration. Jack was our project manager for that 1914 car’s preparation for a return to service, and after leaving the car in Muni’s hands and heading across the street for coffee with other volunteers, he spoke enthusiastically about resuming work on 1924 Market Street Railway Co. car No. 798. Though he was encyclopedic in his knowledge of San Francisco history, he was really more interested in what was ahead. Thanks to Jack, there will be more vintage streetcars ahead for the F-line, along with fond memories held by all who knew him.
Jack leaves no family, but many, many friends. On the one hand, he had expressed the wish in his will that he ‘leave quietly’, and so no formal memorial service is planned. On the other hand, he mentioned to friends in recent months his willingness to be remembered by communities in which he participated.
All who knew Jack well will miss him deeply. Perhaps John Nevin–Jack’s long-time fellow motorman and an operator of legendary skill in his own right–put it best when he was quoted in 1994 by Carl Nolte in his San Francisco Chronicle story on Jack’s retirement from Muni: “They will fill the vacancy when he retires, but they will never fill Jack Smith’s shoes.”
If you’d like to share your own stories or thoughts about Jack Smith, please feel free to do so in the comments below.