Hamburg’s tramway system, like those of many German cities, was devastated by World War II.
When rebuilding commenced, the transit agency, Hamburger Hochbahn Aktiengesellschaft, began acquiring a new fleet of double-truck trams, larger than the single-truckers traditionally used in Germany. Car No. 3557, of the V6E class, is one such car. When it was built in 1954, it was quite advanced electrically, with a built-in public address system and electric-operated automatic destination signs. The three sets of doors speed loading. Its interior is austere, with hard teakwood seats and slatwood floors. In Hamburg, these cars usually pulled trailers, so the car is equipped with four powerful motors, and can accelerate very quickly even on San Francisco’s hills.
The tram’s German career ended in 1978 when route 2, Hamburg’s last tram line, shut down. But, San Francisco transit buff Maurice Klebolt persuaded Hamburg officials to donate the car to San Francisco (though apparently he didn’t tell this to anyone in the City government at the time). Klebolt then arranged shipping and brought the car to San Francisco in 1979, dubbing it “The Red Baron”. Never one to be shy, Klebolt arranged for the car to be pulled up in front of City Hall on a flatbed truck while Mayor Dianne Feinstein was holding an unrelated event on the building’s steps.
The “presentation” of this gift garnered guffaws from the press, including a headline that read “A Streetcar Named Undesirable” in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Muni promptly stuck the car in a little used storage track, but after several years of neglect, Klebolt was vindicated with the advent of the Trolley Festivals in 1983. Joined by a group of Muni workers and volunteers, they began restoration work on the tram, and Hamburg railfans, showing great generosity and enthusiasm for the project, sent over parts and accessories for the car, which operated successfully for four summers in San Francisco, fulfilling Klebolt’s wish before he died in 1988. The car was used again for the parade honoring San Francisco’s streetcar centennial in 1992, but soon after, without covered storage, the car began rusting heavily at Geneva Division, where Muni keeps the historic fleet. It currently awaits restoration, both to address the rust issue, and to alter its door configuration to meet current requirements for wheelchair accessibility.
Originally Built For
Hamburger Hochbahn Aktiengesellschaft, Hamburg, Germany, 1954
Acquired by Muni From
Hamburg, Germany, 1979
4 – type GEM 50kw each
Hydraulic, dynamic, magnetic