121 Years in One Day

Muni Supervisor Robert Parks, who trains operators on every type of streetcar and light rail vehicle in the city, may have set a record today.

In the morning (above), he trained operators on Muni’s newest model of LRV, Siemens car 2001, delivered earlier this year. (The first Siemens cars are due to start carrying paying passengers next month.) Above. 2001at the N-Judah Ocean Beach terminal.

Then, he got a call — could he do a shop move, transferring 1896 single-truck “dinky” 578 across Cameron Beach Yard.

The same operator running one of the very the newest streetcars in America and the oldest passenger streetcar still on the roster of a US transit agency in the same day — vehicles built 121 years apart. That’s gotta be a record!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Robert moved the dinky “across town,” which he called us to correct. We regret the error but are still in awe of his “double-header”.

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What Would You Have Saved From the Old Boneyard?

“Bone Yard” at Funston and Lincoln Way, 1944, SFMTA Archive.

The new issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, should reach your mailboxes any day now. It contains a story about our efforts to save the best PCC streetcars at Muni’s current “boneyard”, on Marin Street near Islais Creek, as Muni moves to convert the space into a bus testing yard.

(No, we’re not going to post that story here, at least not yet; our members feel getting first knowledge of important developments regarding the historic streetcar fleet is a perk of their membership. But you can get the new Inside Track instantly, by email if you join right now.)

This post is about the original “boneyard,” the streetcar storage area created by our namesake, the old Market Street Railway Company, in the city block bounded by Lincoln Way, Funston Avenue, 14th Avenue, and Irving Street. (Thanks to the SFMTA Archive for the photo, dated March 1944.)

Our namesake stored over 100 streetcars here at a time, with a large infusion entering the boneyard in the late 1930s, after the courts squashed the company’s operation of some streetcars with just a single crew member. Rather than convert those cars back into two-person operation, they just stored them. Even the increased ridership of World War II didn’t pry them out. These included advanced-looking (but underpowered) “rail sedans” purchased second-hand from East St. Louis, conventional arch roof cars from that railway and from Williamsport, PA, and a variety of deck-roof and arch roof cars originally purchased by predecessor United Railroads, plus, over time, most of the streetcars Market Street Railway built with San Francisco labor in its own Elkton Shops near Balboa Park (now the site of Muni’s Curtis E. Green Light Rail Division).

After Market Street Railway was merged with Muni in 1944, the railway stored streetcars here for a time as they were taken out of service in favor of trolley buses. Briefly, these included at least some of the single-truck E-Union line “dinkys”.

We only know of one single streetcar that escaped the boneyard and is still intact today: 1924 home-built car 798, about which we hope to share some very good news soon. For now, let’s play a game for those with some knowledge of the boneyard.

If you could have waved a magic wand and saved up to three streetcars from scrapping, so that they could be running on the E- and F-lines today, which three would they be (meaning which type, not which specific car numbers)?  Answer in the comments section.  Wishing won’t make it so, but what the heck.

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City Hall Avenue, Around 1913

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Almost no one is still with us who actually saw the street named City Hall Avenue.  It ran parallel to Market Street, half a block north, and stretched just two blocks between Leavenworth and Larkin Streets. The massive but poorly built City Hall and neighboring Hall of Records filled the north side of the street.

Because of the municipal buildings, it was an important street, at least until April 18, 1906, when the giant earthquake shook the shoddily built City Hall to the ground. As an important street, it rated a streetcar line, the Tenth and Montgomery line of United Railroads, a meandering route that started at Tenth and Bryant, crossed Market, zigzagged on Polk and Grove to run along City Hall Avenue, then turned north on Leavenworth to Post, Post to Montgomery (where those two streets intersect Market Street), and then north via Montgomery and Washington to Kearny Street.

In the photo above, looking west from Leavenworth Street and dated around 1913, City Hall Avenue looks like a ghost town. The old City Hall is gone, with plans being made to build the grand new one we love today two blocks away. The Hall of Records, not too badly damaged in the quake, has been fixed up and is back in use, but it too is headed for demolition as a new vision for a grand Civic Center takes shapes. The only other buildings in the shot were thrown up after the earthquake and look temporary, which they turned out to be. The overhead wires and tracks turn from Leavenworth Street (to the right in the photo) onto City Hall Avenue.

14938351_10209745024253921_2384041602252333076_nThe map to the left shows the street grid of the time, with City Hall Avenue just to the right of Market Street, with a plaza connecting the two where Hyde Street is today.

So why put a photo without streetcars on a streetcar site? Because streetcars were pretty rare on this line by this time.

With the abrupt shift from cable cars to streetcars on Market Street after the quake, and establishment of other streetcar lines, the meandering Tenth and Montgomery line became an anachronism, just a few years after its opening in 1900. It only drew decent ridership during rush hours, with so few riders the rest of the time that United Railroads kept the small single-truck “dinkys” (identical to preserved Car 578) on the line, while other lines got bigger streetcars. Before long, service was cut to the minimum necessary to retain the city-awarded franchise to use the streets.

When City Hall Avenue itself was ripped up within a few years of this photo, United Railways rerouted this line along existing tracks on Larkin and McAllister Streets, and it held on until 1931. Very few photographs have come to light of the early days of streetcars on this line but at least we have the tracks, and a vanished street, to look at.

Thanks to John A. Harris for posting the photo on the Facebook group San Francisco Remembered, and to Kevin Walsh for posting the map there with his comment. Thanks too to Emiliano Echeverria, who corrected a couple of facts in the post, which is now updated.

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Getting Ready for Muni Heritage Weekend

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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.)

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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.

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Honoring Labor

  Happy Labor Day 2016! Here’s a shout out to San Francisco past and present, who built, maintained, and operated our transit system. Its history was punctuated by struggles on behalf of unions, including strikes that cost workers’ lives early in the century, that led to a solid union environment today. In celebration of the hundreds of thousands of good jobs transit provided through the decades, two photos from the wonderful SFMTA Archives (with a hat tip to Archivist Jeremy Menzies… — Read More

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Patriarch Streetcar Turns 120

According to our historian, the redoubtable Emiliano Echeverria, 120 years ago, August 10, 1896 (give or take a day), a new streetcar was delivered for service in San Francisco. Streetcars themselves had only become a viable transit technology eight years before in Richmond, Virginia. San Francisco got its first streetcar line only four years before, in 1892, but transit companies led by Market Street Railway Company were replacing cable car lines with streetcars and building new lines with the electric… — Read More

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