Cable cars aren’t the only San Francisco transit vehicles that “climb halfway to the stars.” This 1938 White Motor Company bus spent parts of four decades growling up and down Telegraph Hill on Muni’s 39-Coit line. White had built Muni’s very first bus in 1918, and was Muni’s favored source for its then-infrequent bus purchases. Bus #042 was one of 22 Model White 784 buses delivered to Muni in 1938-39, at a cost of $10,477.53 each (including farebox).
In those days, the Muni lines with heavy ridership were all served by streetcars, so full-sized buses weren’t necessary. Originally painted pumpkin orange with black trim, these buses soldiered through World War II serving Muni bus routes that fed the backbone streetcar network. They also ran a line known as “11-Telegraph Hill” that served the recently built visitor attraction, Coit Tower.
After the war, Muni began acquiring a much bigger fleet of White buses – 369 in all. They were longer than this 28-footer, but otherwise looked identical, and had the same horizontally opposed 12-cylinder “pancake” gasoline engine. Like the new full-sized Whites, the “Baby Whites” were painted into Muni’s postwar Green and Cream livery, with “wings” as an ornamentation.
The fleet of larger Whites took over for streetcars on many Muni (and ex-Market Street Railway) lines, and replaced older buses on other lines. They in turn were replaced by trolley coaches on some ex-streetcar routes around 1950, and by newer Mack diesel buses most everywhere else in the late 1950s.
But three of the “Baby Whites”, including this one (renumbered to No. 062), were kept on to ply the path to Coit Tower, which they did, faithfully, until 1975.
In the last years of their service, the “Baby Whites” were painted to match the then-new GMC diesels, in a maroon and yellow paint scheme derived from the California Street cable cars, a fitting livery, given that the “Baby Whites” were already antiques.
This bus’s 37 years of continuous regular service was exceptional, a tribute to Muni’s maintenance staff. Even at that, its life wasn’t over.
After an interval, 042 was painted back into the popular Wings livery, and then, for Muni’s 2012 centennial, it was comprehensively restored by Muni crafts workers to its original 1938 appearance and fitted with a restored engine, identical to its worn-out original, obtained and donated by Market Street Railway.
Today, this bus, affectionately known as “The Pumpkin”, serves as an ambassador to the community at parades and events, a reminder of Muni’s tradition of service to every neighborhood of San Francisco.
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