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.


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.”


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.


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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A Streetcar Named Undesirable

Editor’s Note: This article, by Marshall Kilduff, appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 15, 1979. Maurice Klebolt went on to become a board member of Market Street Railway and one of the forces behind the Historic Trolley Festivals from 1983-87 that led to the permanent F-Market and Wharves vintage streetcar line.

A German streetcar was trundled on the back of a flatbed truck to the front steps of City Hall yesterday where city officials fashioned a reluctant welcome for the unbidden gift.

Maurice Klebolt (left) with his pride and joy, Hamburg tram No. 3557, about 1984, some five years  <a style=

The occasion was pronounced “a triumph” by Maurice Klebolt, the portly Municipal Railway gadfly who brought the 35-year old tram from Hamburg but neglected to tell the Muni.

City officials, whose annoyance showed through their ceremonial manners, announced the unsolicited gift will be stored away on a siding at the Geneva carbarn, probably for good.

Klebolt and his band of Muni nostalgia buffs and critics—known as the Citizens Advisory Panel for Transit Improvement—had sweet-talked Hamburg officials into turning over the car, made obsolete there by a new subway system.

Klebolt, happy as a clam, raised the money—including $1500 of his own—to ship the tram from Germany. The Hapag-Lloyd shipping line carried the car at a discount rate. Klebolt was in fine fettle yesterday. Mayor Dianne Feinstein was winding up a ceremony on the City Hall steps with Canadian tourism officials from Ontario when Klebolt sidled up and presented her with a spray of red roses.

The mayor turned to her perplexed guests and explained the newcomer as though he were an eccentric uncle who had been told to stay upstairs during a parlor wedding.

“Mr. Klebolt has paid for this streetcar. But we don’t quite know what to do with it, you see,” she smiled icily.

No. 3557 participates in the parade marking the centennial of San Francisco’s first streetcar line, 1992. Market Street Railway photo. Click to enlarge.

Feinstein, who had already been presented with a gold chrome bottle of Canadian whiskey and a toy cannon, looked around for somewhere to stow the flowers. She spied a couple of French newlyweds, Jacky and Susan Baudot, who had chosen that moment in their lives to leave City Hall after being married by Judge Gerald J. O’Gara.

“Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll be very happy,” she said, handing off the roses to the startled couple.

Everyone posed for pictures while Klebolt moved off to the red tram, sitting on rusty rails on a flatbed truck.

Despite its advance billing as a “beauty,” the tram was missing its turn signals, rearview mirrors and inside light fixtures. Klebolt rubbed a dent on the tram’s flank.

Its interior was fitted in mahogany, true enough, but the slatted floor installed for the wet north German weather resembled the working area of a luncheonette.

“It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen,” said Muni general manager Richard Sklar bravely.

“Every transit system should have one sitting in its yard for five years,” he added.

undesirable-3.jpgMarket Street Railway photo.

Sklar and Klebolt had a gentlemanly exchange about who was to pay the final trucking costs to the Muni’s Geneva yard. Klebolt assured him his group was good for all expenses.

Klebolt’s masterplan is to round up even more old discarded cars from “international centers of transit” such as Calcutta, Milan, Kyoto, and Melbourne.

The cars would be run along a proposed Embarcadero line, estimated by Muni officials to be five years off.

“Looks like we’ll need about 12,” Klebolt said.

Editor’s Note: Maurice Klebolt passed away in 1988. He is memorialized in Remembering a Trolley Titan article, from our member newsletter Inside TrackRegular streetcar service on The Embarcadero was not five years off, as “estimated by Muni officials” in the article, but 21. The F-line extension along the northern Embarcadero opened in 2000.

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