Close to 10,000 smiling people showed up to give some love to San Francisco’s transit history over the weekend of September 23-24. The tenth Muni Heritage celebration was the biggest yet, drawing families from the City and around the Bay, and transit fans from around the nation and even from overseas.
“It’s a good thing we went back to a two-day event,” said Rick Laubscher, President of the nonprofit Market Street Railway, which co-sponsored the weekend’s doings with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Muni’s parent. “We would have been overwhelmed if we tried to jam everything into a single day.” The event, cancelled by the pandemic for two years, returned as a single day in the spring of 2022, a departure from its usual fall timing.
The event gave San Franciscans the chance to ride vintage transit vehicles as old as 140 years (the world’s oldest, largest cable car) and as young as 21 years (a motor coach retired in pristine condition just a few years ago). In all, visitors enjoyed free rides on seven Muni buses between 21 and 85 years old and six vintage streetcars from Muni’s unmatched mix of its own historic cars and international imports, ranging from 71 to 127 years old, all departing from our San Francisco Railway Museum at 77 Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building.
Just two blocks away at California and Market, riders lined up for the two special cable cars from long disappeared lines (Sacramento-Clay and O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde), operating on the California Street cable car line with its five dollar all-day hop-on hop-off fare that has greatly boosted ridership on that line.
The two most popular vehicles of the weekend: distinctly unusual-looking electric streetcars that brought big smiles to all who rode them or watched them rumble along The Embarcadero between the museum and Pier 39. The bright yellow “Dinky” streetcar, built in 1896 for the old Market Street Railway Company (16 years before Muni existed) elicited double-takes from countless onlookers, thinking it was a cable car run amok. (San Francisco’s oldest surviving electric streetcar, it was built by a company that also built cable cars.) Families, couples, and groups of friends vied for its outside seats and laughed as the little car bounced along the waterfront.
The newly-repainted Boat Tram from Blackpool England, celebrating its 40th year in San Francisco (after our nonprofit acquired it for Muni during the Trolley Festivals that led to today’s F-line) was resplendent in red and so popular that folks waited in line more than an hour for their turn at a 30-minute round trip to the Wharf, with virtually no complaints. (Muni owns two Boats; the second is getting new wheels and will, we hope, join this one next year to bring smiles to even more faces.)
Muni’s very first streetcar (Car 1) gave riders a taste of the Municipal Railway in its first decades. Trams from Milan, Melbourne, and Brussels (painted to honor Zurich) reminded riders that San Francisco has always been an international city. All carried big loads.
In between rides on the vintage vehicles, people checked out our museum’s exhibition on 150 Years of Cable Cars and shopped for souvenirs in what turned out to be the museum’s busiest weekend in its 17-year history.
Kids of all ages also climbed about Muni’s latest motor coach restoration, the 1947 Faegol-Twin Coach displayed on the plaza across the tracks from the museum, and admired the newly restored “cable car pusher” from the 1930s that moved cable cars around the barn for decades. There were games for kids, who judging from sound alone, preferred to ring the bells on Muni’s motorized cable car (and ring, and ring, and ring….). It was a family-friendly weekend that delighted all who dropped by.
Three most frequent questions: “Where’s the Boat?”, “Where’s the Dinky?”, and “When can you do it again?” (We’ll soon start discussions about a date for next year; we’ll ask for September again; the weather was perfect.)
Thanks to everyone at Muni who was involved, starting with top gun Jeff Tumlin, who came on his vacation and brought a top Federal Transit Administration official along for a ride on the Dinky. Jeanne Brophy of SFMTA Marketing handled organization on Muni’s side (and produced 10,000 handout cards showing the vehicles running, all of which were snapped up by midday Sunday). Jonathan Kibrick set routes and administered the action on site. Inspector Traci Cox masterfully managed streetcar operations to maximize the number of trips the cars took. Louis Guzzo, Muni’s maintenance czar and champion of vintage buses and his team provided the best-ever bus show. Kevin Sheridan and his crew took wonderful care of the streetcars (special shout-out to Joseph Goncalves, who worked all night Saturday to tune up the vintage cars after a hard day of service so that they’d delight more riders on Sunday. Above and beyond!).
Above and beyond applied to so many of Muni’s folks this weekend. We will try to name them all in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track, along with the many volunteer contributors from our nonprofit. All contributed importantly and will be recognized.
The weekend drew lots of favorable media coverage, including a detailed story in the Sunday Chronicle (note: paywall may block you), plus stories in the San Francisco Standard, Channel 5 (CBS Bay Area), Channel 4, and other outlets. Social media accounts and groups were flooded with thousands of photos of the vintage vehicles and people enjoying them, reminding people how long Muni has been moving San Franciscans.
Dozens more photographs on our Facebook Group. If you were there, please post more!
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