Rainy Day on Market, World War II

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Weather forecast says rain’s on the way for the Bay Area. As good a time as any to share this photo of Market Street, looking east from Fifth Street, taken during World War II (likely 1943 or early 1944). Rich detail in this photo. The blue and gold N-Judah on the outside track is trying to squeeze past the automobile so it can catch up to the competing 5-McAllister streetcar (with the flashy “zip stripe” on the side) of our namesake, Market Street Railway.

American flags and a striped banner hang from the streetcar span wires. The switches from the inside tracks to Fifth Street, where the 40-line interurbans to San Mateo terminated, are visible around the traffic cop with his bright raincoat (was it white or yellow?). Engulfed in the crowd at the extreme center right of the shot (to the left of the word “The” for the Owl Drug Company store at the corner) is the patented Wiley “birdcage” traffic signal unique to San Francisco. How were motorists and streetcar motormen expected to see it? (You can see an operating one at our San Francisco Railway Museum.) Next to the birdcage, a small porcelain traffic sign, put there by Triple-A, points drivers toward the Bay Bridge entrance at Bryant Street (no connecting freeway then!).

Gray’s Navy Blues and GallenKamp Shoes are two of the stores in the building on the north side of Market, which would be ripped down a quarter-century later to build the Powell Street BART station and Hallidie Plaza. The awnings of the ground floor retail store in the Flood Building (where Gap’s flagship store is now) are just visible at the top. The patterns on the sea of umbrellas make us wish this shot was in color.

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Postgame Parade

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The Super Bowl ended this football season, but we’ll go into overtime for a minute to share a special football-related photo. We’re at the end of the N-Judah line at Ocean Beach. Based on the clues in the photo, it’s between 1955 and 1957. PCC “torpedo” No. 1015 is about to take the loop and head inbound. It’s been converted from double-end to single-end operation, hence the blocked-off doors you see.

On the stub track sit two “B type” original Muni streetcars, built in 1914 but recently “modernized” with conductor-operated doors on their rear platforms. We can’t tell the number of the car, on the right, but the one closer to us is No. 162. We know why it and its sibling are laying over from the yellow dash sign saying “Football Today – Kezar Stadium.” It’s probably a 49ers game (city high school games were played there too). Muni banked a couple of cars on the N-line terminal spur for postgame pickups. Other cars would switch back near Kezar on Carl Street to take fans home.

As mentioned last week, we’ve captured this distinctive dash sign on a tee shirt which you can buy at our San Francisco Railway Museum.  They’ll be up on our online store next week. (By the way, “shortest route” dates back to the pre-1944 days when Muni competed with our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, whose service to Kezar ran via Haight Street instead of the N-line’s faster Sunset Tunnel route.)

Kezar Tee shirt

It’s amazing that at least two of the three streetcars pictured in this 60 year old photo are preserved (heck, could be all three if that other one is No. 130). Well, maybe not so amazing…our organization and its founders successfully championed the preservation of the rare double-end PCCs Muni owned, such that seven of the ten are in service today! And we brought No. 162 back from a museum and began its restoration. (Today, we’re working with SFMTA to get the damage it suffered in an accident two years ago repaired. It is a slow process, but we won’t rest until it’s back on the street.)

Your support is what makes our work possible. Please consider donating or joining, and visit our museum for great displays, vintage film and photos, and great gifts too!

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Happy 87th Birthday, N-Judah!

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The N-Judah streetcar line turns 87 on October 21. SFMTA’s great blog has already posted some great photos of its 1928 opening, including one (the top one on their blog page) we don’t remember seeing before, so we’re going to share a couple of more recent shots instead. These were taken during a dead-of-the-night test run in 2010, after the LRVs had gone to bed for the night.

The purpose was to check clearances along the surface portion of the N-line to see which historic streetcars would be able to clear. Of course, the N-line was served by its original type of “Iron Monster” streetcars (like Muni No. 130) and then, for a third of a century, by PCCs like the ones that run on the F-line now. But years ago, when Muni installed an accessibility platform downtown-bound right where the tracks turn from Judah onto Ninth Avenue, they didn’t leave enough room for at least a few of the historic cars to clear the curve without scraping the ramp. In response, the Muni leadership of the day simply banned all historic cars from the N-line.

This meant that special event service for neighborhood celebrations or excursions and charters could no longer go out the N to Ocean Beach, as they had regularly since the days of the Trolley Festivals in the 1980s. (Excursions regularly go out the J, K, L, M, and the inner portion of the T, and are very popular. A few Saturdays ago, Muni ran a special vintage service on Ocean Avenue for the merchants there.)

10th&JudahAnyway, Muni already knew that the longest PCCs, the double-ended “torpedoes”, couldn’t clear the ramp at 9th and Judah, and it knew that narrower cars, like the boat trams and the 1050 class of PCCs, did clear.  But what about the 12 full width single-end PCCs, the 1070 class, plus historic car No. 1040, the last PCC built in North America? At 9 feet even, those cars are eight inches wider than the 1050 class, which came second-hand from Philadelphia.

As it turned out, the 2010 test showed they do clear the ramp. Muni hasn’t yet lifted the blanket ban on historic streetcars on the N-line, but we hope they will, and are advocating to allow charters, excursions, and special service for the neighborhood out there.  Maybe after the Sunset Tunnel rerailing project is completed…in time for the N-line’s 88th birthday next year!

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The Day the Streetcars (Almost) Died

It was 30 years ago today, September 17, 1982, that surface streetcars on Market Street were supposed to roll into history forever. As Market Street Railway member Bob Davis reminds us, that was expected to be the final day of operation of Muni’s streamlined PCC streetcars, with full seven-day operation in the Muni Metro Subway on all five lines (J,K,L,M,N) starting the next morning, using new Boeing light rail vehicles.


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When PCC No. 1108 took the N-Judah beach loop on September 17, 1982, it was thought it would be the last PCC to ever do that. Thanks to lots of effort by advocates, that turned out not to be true. Bob Davis photo.

Bob says he drove up from Southern California just for the event.
> “I went to Geneva – Division, at San Jose and Ocean Avenues – and found that the last car would be an ‘N’ and went off to intercept it. A handful of passengers rode that historic car. When we reached the 30th Ave. wye, the motorman told us that a charter car would be following us, and put our car ‘in the hole’ and turned off the lights. Soon the charter run PCC No. 1006] came by, and we sat tight until it passed our hideout inbound. Now it was back onto Judah St. and our date with history.”


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PCC No. 1006, pictured here at the old Geneva car house after pulling in on September 17, 1982, was supposed to be the last car back to the barn, carrying railfans on a charter. But it got tricked by No. 1108, hiding on a siding. Bob Davis photo.

But of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Thanks to the efforts of advocates, including leaders of Market Street Railway, vintage streetcars returned to Market Street the following summer for the first Trolley Festival, which proved the allure of historic transit and led to the permanent F-line. (No. 1006 was chosen to be one of three PCCs in the Festival fleet.) During the Trolley Festival years, the vintage streetcars occasionally operated on the outer ends of the J, K, L, M, and N lines. Since 1995, of course, PCCs have operated on the F-line every single day.
Even better, both the charter streetcar (No. 1006) and the last pull-in (No. 1108) are still around.


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PCC No. 1006 testing on 19th Avenue on the M-Ocean View line, September 2012. Whole Wheat Toast photo from the Market Street Railway Flickr Group.

No. 1006, in fact, is out most days right now on the K, L, and M lines being tested after just returning from a total rebuild by Brookville Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania. It will soon be carrying passengers again. No. 1108 is one of the “reserve fleet” of unrestored PCCs, some 20 in all, being held by Muni for possible future restoration if demand warrants.
One other note: the N-line has been officially off-limits to vintage streetcars for well over a decade, since Muni discovered that a new accessibility ramp at Ninth and Judah was misdesigned such that the biggest vintage streetcars would hit it as they swung into the curve on Ninth Avenue. A year or so ago, Muni ran some late night tests and found that all the single-end PCC cars (Nos. 1040, 1050-1063, and 1070-1080) would clear the ramp. Based on their relative size, all the Milan trams should clear the ramp as well. along with most of the older, one-of-a-kind cars, such as the popular Blackpool boat tram. To the best of our knowledge, only the seven double-end PCC cars (Nos. 1006-1011 and 1015), big Muni “Iron Monsters” Nos. 130 and 162, and possibly Car No. 1, wouldn’t clear the ramp.
We will be renewing our efforts with Muni to allow charters and other special operations of the streetcars that fit on the N-Judah line, in hopes that today’s riders have a chance to duplicate that special trip Bob Davis and others took 30 years ago today.

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