Double your year-end donation!

Your year-end tax-deductible donation will be DOUBLED thanks to a matching challenge from our board members. Please read on!

Hard to believe that 2020 marks 25 years since the permanent F-line opened on Market Street, and 20 years since it was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf, where one of the famed Blackpool “Boat Trams” is pictured (both of the Boat Trams, we should mention, Market Street Railway acquired for Muni and paid to ship here).

Muni is, of course, America’s first publicly-owned big city transit system, celebrating its 107th anniversary of operation on December 28. Someone recently described our nonprofit as “like the starter dough that makes sourdough bread possible. Without that starter, always on hand to be a catalyst, no sourdough.” We’re certainly not as famous as San Francisco sourdough, but we’re flattered by the analogy.  As we’ve said before, it takes patience and persistence to accomplish good things in San Francisco. Important projects don’t get done as quickly as we would like, that’s true, but we’ve seen so many examples of other advocacy groups who constantly act confrontative instead of collaborative, and they usually end up with no results at all.   

We made some good progress in 2019, notably getting the Boats back into summertime waterfront service, to the delight of the public, thanks to SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum. Having been at this advocacy for almost 40 years (since the planning of the first Trolley Festival in the early 1980s), we’ve seen both supportive and obstructive officials at Muni. But our patient building of relationships at City Hall and with leading businesses and neighborhood groups has enabled steady growth and improvement in the historic streetcar operation, and contributed to rejuvenation of the cable car system, overcoming the periodic internal indifference that now appears past. 

With new leadership in place at Muni and its parent, SFMTA, we believe 2020 can be a breakthrough year, with your help. There are already early indications that the beloved Boats will be cruising the waterfront more often in 2020. We believe contracts will finally go out to completely restore five more historic streetcars from the 1920s. They include New Orleans 913 (1923), Market Street Railway 798 (1924), Johnstown 351 (1926), Osaka 151 (1927) and Porto, Portugal 189(1929), restore them with their original trucks, not replicas, thanks to our advocacy, to give the traditional ride of these great vintage vehicles.

Additionally, original 1914 Muni 162 should reenter service, its 105-year old trucks completely rebuilt in-house, by Muni’s great crafts workers. Following that, its sister 1914 Car 130 is slated for a complete in-house rebuilding. Muni leadership’s decision to do this work in-house (pending identification of space and budgeting) is to us a clear demonstration of their strong commitment to the true permanent operation of not only the F-line, but also the E-Embarcadero line, where the double-end vintage streetcars will primarily be assigned. And again, thanks to our advocacy, we are closer to getting the E-line extended westward to Aquatic Park to serve Fort Mason, with a grant of nearly $1 million to get to the design phase approved by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Our board of directors, chaired by Carmen Clark, joins me in thanking all our members and donors for their support that made these and other accomplishments possible. And this year, several members of our board members have stepped up to personally match the first $7,500 in year-end donations we receive. These will be used to help us strengthen our day-to-day advocacy to get the projects I mentioned across the finish line. They’ll also seed an ambitious project we’ll be telling you more about in the next Inside Track, our member magazine. Our San Francisco Railway Museum begins its 15th year of operation in a few months. It’s time to freshen it, both inside and outside, with more moving images and interactivity to appeal to new generations of transit fans, to build enduring support for the historic streetcars and cable cars. Your year-end gifts will be the “starter” for this important project, and our board match will double your donation’s impact

We hope to have made major progress on the museum by 2020’s Muni Heritage Weekend, August 22-23.  Of course, the oh-so-popular Blackpool Boat Trams will be there, along with both Melbourne trams, Muni’s 1912 flagship Car 1, 1896 “Dinky” 578, and much more. 

For all these reasons, and especially our board members’ matching offer, please consider a tax-deductible year-end donation to Market Street Railway. You can make a one-time gift of as little as $10, or a recurring monthly donation. Please click here to donate and help us keep the past present in the future. And please consider sharing this email with friends who might want to join Market Street Railway or make a donationThanks for your ongoing support.

Warm wishes for a very happy holiday season.

Looking forward,

Rick Laubscher, President, Market Street Railway

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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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First Videos of “White Front” Powell Cable Car 12

Right on schedule, Powell Cable Car 12 returned to service at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 15, 2016. For the first time in 72 years (back when it was numbered 512), it was wearing the “White Front” livery of our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, which merged with Muni in 1944. The video above shows the 12 leaving the Washington-Mason car barn for the first time in revenue service since its restoration.

The photograph below, taken just few blocks away at Powell and California by the great rail photographer Will Whittaker,, shows how the car looked in service the first time it was in this livery, in 1944. We wrote more about this car, and our initiative to restore historic liveries to the Powell Street cable car fleet here.

60-2k WJ car 512 on Powell at California, 1944, WCW sm copy 2

The video below shows the first time Car 12 spun the Powell-Market turntable in revenue service today.

Finally, here’s a shot of two of the many proud parents of Car 12, SFMTA’s Ed Cobean, in overall charge of cable cars, and his maintenance right-hand, Carol Wolther. The first-run gripman, Randy Dea, is ready to go in the background.


We’ll have much more about this car and our livery restoration program in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in July.  Meantime, welcome back, Car 12!


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“White Front” Cable Car Returns

Powell 12 new

Powell Street cable car 12 returns to service today after an extensive rebuilding process that lasted more than two years. Its return marks the completion of a project that Market Street Railway has supported Muni on for more than 20 years. Powell 12 now proudly wears the famous “White Front” livery of our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, that all Powell cars wore from the mid-1930s until 1944, when Muni took over its private competitor, acquiring the Powell cable lines as part of the deal. The livery is very simple: all white on the ends, all green on the sides. That was deliberate. Market Street Railway Company was in increasing financial trouble and wanted to keep labor costs down wherever possible. An earlier Market Street Railway Company livery, displayed on Powell Car 9, featured red window sashes. (The company painted all its streetcars and cable cars in the simpler scheme shown above.)

Since the Powell-Mason streetcar line opened in 1888, the “halfway to the stars” cars have worn numerous liveries (paint schemes) adopted by the five companies that have owned the Powell lines over the past 128 years. From bright yellow to red to green to blue to maroon, the history of Powell liveries is a kaleidoscope of color. Generally, though, the Powell cars were only one color at a time.  (There were interesting exceptions, which we’ll address in the next issue of our newsletter for members onlyInside Track, due out in July.)

In 1973, for the centennial of the first cable car line, one car was reconstructed and painted in the original 1888 livery of the Powell Street Railway Company (a subsidiary of Ferries & Cliff House Railway), thanks to Charles Smallwood, who was then cable car superintendent. The handsome livery on Powell Car 1 was just restored to its 1973 appearance with Market Street Railway’s help.

The maroon and sky blue livery was so well liked that the rest of the fleet was painted in a simplified version of it during the cable car system rebuilding of the 1980s. However, one car, Powell 3, was left in the previous Muni green and cream livery. This gave us, and some folks at Muni, an idea. Why not share other vintage Powell liveries with today’s riders? So over the past 30 years, as Powell cars went into the carpentry and paint shops for major rebuilding, various vintage liveries were applied to them.  Here’s a look at all of them. (Scroll down to the thumbnails of the various cable cars and click on any of them for the story of that car and its livery.)

The wonderful restoration work is a tribute to Muni’s dedicated cable car crafts workers. Market Street Railway helped by researching the liveries, preparing drawings and specifications and creating and purchasing decals for the cars that replicate the original owners’ logos (which were hand-lettered in the early decades of the cable cars.

Car 12’s debut marks the last of nine different liveries worn by Powell cars. Most of them are on the street most days of the week. We are working with Ed Cobean, Muni’s current cable car boss, to have all of them out, if possible on Muni Heritage Weekend this year, September 24-25.

Welcome back to this important piece of San Francisco history, bringing the famous “White Front” livery back to Powell Street for the first time in 72 years!


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Join Us at San Francisco History Days

This weekend, March 5-6, the historic Old Mint at Fifth and Mission comes alive again with city history. Dozens of city history groups will assemble to celebrate San Francisco’s history. Market Street Railway will again be among them, as we have been in the past.  (That’s us above at an earlier version of the event. The Old Mint is a great venue for this.) has all the details here. This year, the Mayor’s Office is running the event and… — Read More

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When We Actually Built Our Own Transportation

An article on BART’s new cars stirred up a hornet’s nest of comments lamenting that we don’t build anything here any more — specifically transit vehicles. We’re not going to wade into that discussion (but feel free to clink the link and comment there). Coincidentally, though, that news story appeared the same day a reader in Idaho, Noel Anthony Cimino, submitted this photograph to us for publication. Here’s what he wrote: > “This is a photo of my dad, Joseph… — Read More

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