According to our historian, the redoubtable Emiliano Echeverria, 125 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 had opened its first streetcar line only four years earlier, in 1892, but transit companies led by Market Street Railway Company were busy already, replacing some cable car lines with streetcars and building new lines with the electric vehicles.
The first streetcars that appeared in San Francisco looked a lot like cable cars, except for the trolley pole on the roof that conducted electricity from the overhead wire. That wasn’t surprising. The standard cable car design of the time, the “California Car” (named after the California Street cable car design still used today), was popular with riders, with open end sections and a closed center section. And many of the early San Francisco streetcars were built by cable car builders.
That new streetcar delivered in August 1896 still operates today. Built by Hammond, which later built today’s fleet of California Street cable cars, No. 578 is the oldest passenger transit vehicle in America still on the operating roster of a public transit agency. It survived because it was turned into a work car after the 1906 earthquake and was kept around in that capacity before being restored by Muni’s crafts workers for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the earthquake in 1956. It was then going to be put on static display at a proposed railroad museum across from the Hyde Street Pier, but when that fell through, it went back to Muni for a time and was then loaned to the Western Railway Museum in Solano County.
The Historic Trolley Festivals of the 1980s, spearheaded by leaders of Market Street Railway, saw Car 578 brought home to carry passengers occasionally on its home city’s rails. Known affectionately by its many fans as the “Dinky” for its compact size, Car 578 has been wildly popular during the annual Muni Heritage Weekends (pictured below) that ran for eight years before the pandemic and we hope will resume in 2022.
We’re going to run a special feature to celebrate Car 578‘s 125th birthday in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, with many more historic photos of this patriarch of San Francisco’s streetcar fleet.Join Market Street Railway now so you don’t miss it!
They’re not back yet. At least not for passengers. But the streetcars in Muni’s historic fleet are at least more visible these days where they belong: on the streets of San Francisco.
Muni’s F-line and E-line streetcars have been sidelined for nine months now, victims of the Covid-19-related collapse of Muni ridership. But electric vehicles need exercise to stay in good condition. Streetcars just back from outside contractors or inside maintenance have to be tested. And operators have to be trained or retrained for the day passenger service resumes. (No date set for that yet; Muni still has to install protective plexiglass shields between the operator’s cab and the passenger area. Boston and Philadelphia are already doing this; we have asked Muni leadership again to make this a priority.)
In the meantime, we can at least get a look some of the colorful cars back on the street during the past 30 days, thanks to sharp-eyed photographers who’ve posted to our Facebook group.
With Market Street Railway’s help, Muni is celebrating its centennial with two Sundays of special vintage vehicle service, November 4 and 11, from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cable cars, trolley buses and motor coaches rarely if ever used in service will be carrying passengers on special routes, joining a wide array of Muni’s historic streetcars operating very special service as well.
Never before has Muni offered rides on special vintage vehicles in all four modes — streetcar, cable car, trolley coach, and motor coach — on the same day. If you rode just one vehicle of each type, you could experience up to 342 years of San Francisco transit history on those four vehicles. It’s an opportunity that will not likely come again soon. Regular Muni fares will be charged on the special rides.
The center of action will be our San Francisco Railway Museum on Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building, where most of the special service will terminate. On both November 4 and 11, we will have special displays, new centennial merchandise on sale, and a special sale of transit books and memorabilia that do not fit into our archival collection.
Both Sundays, a group of original Muni streetcars will be out and about, reliving Muni’s past, present, and future. The streetcars are expected to include Muni’s very first streetcar, century old No. 1, recently returned from a complete rebuilding. Its “little brother,” 98-year od No. 162, is expected to be in service as well, along with three newly rebuilt streamlined PCCs, all of which have spent their whole lives at Muni; all glorious in their original green and cream “Wings” livery. These include two 1948 double-end cars, Nos. 1006 and 1008 (both built in 1948) and the very last of almost 5,000 PCCs built in North America, No. 1040 (1952).
Car 1. Jeremy Whiteman photo from Market Street Railway Flickr group. (c) 2012, Jeremy Whiteman.
On November 4, the Muni heritage streetcars will operate along the original routing (more or less) of Muni’s oldest surviving line, the J-Church, which opened in 1917. Streetcars will depart about every 20-25 minutes from the Museum (Steuart Street) F-line stop and head out Market. They will follow the F-line tracks to 17th and Noe, then take 17th to Church to join the J-line, following the scenic right-of-way alongside Dolores Park, then through Noe Valley to the original J-line terminal at 30th Street. They’ll then return to the Museum via Church and Market Streets. The streetcars will pick up passengers at ALL regular Muni stops along the route.
On November 11, the Muni heritage streetcars will run along part of Muni’s newest streetcar line, the T-Third. From the Museum, they’ll head south on The Embarcadero along the tracks built for the future E-Embarcadero line, then join the T and N line trains where they emerge from the subway at Folsom. They will pick up or drop off passengers at the low-level E-line platforms at Folsom, Brannan and 2nd & King stations ONLY. After turning onto Fourth Street, the heritage streetcars will operate as a no-stop excursion along Fourth (across the historic China Basin Bridge), Channel, and Third Street to Cesar Chavez, where they will turn east and loop through Muni Metro East, giving riders a quick look at Muni’s newest streetcar facility, which will house the Central Subway fleet. The streetcars will return to the Museum from there.
Also expected to be in service those two Sundays (weather permitting): the 1934 Blackpool Boat, which will shuttle passengers between the museum and Pier 39. It is possible that additional special streetcars could make an appearance on one or both Sundays, depending on availability.
If you can’t make it on either Sunday, Muni will be making every effort to have the five Muni heritage cars in regular F-line service during the week in-between (November 5-10).
Do note that Muni’s shops made concerted efforts to get 1914 car No. 130 back in service
O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car No. 42 on its inaugural (and so far only) run, 2005.
The workhorses of Muni’s trolley coach fleet for a quarter-century were the burly Marmon-Herringtons. Freshly restored No. 776, built in 1950, will be running a downtown loop route leaving from Steuart Street next to the Museum.
1950 Marmon-Herrington trolley coach No. 776 being tested recently. Tony Marquardt photo.
Additionally, one of the first 10 trolley coaches Muni ever owned, No. 506, built for the R-Howard line by St. Louis Car Co. in 1941, is scheduled to be on display in the plaza across the F-line tracks from the Museum. This blue and gold beauty, which shares some of the distinctive lines of the PCC streetcars that St. Louis Car also built, does not operate, but Market Street Railway, which rescued the coach 25 years ago, is working with Muni to complete its restoration.
The more modern trolley coach era will be represented by 1975 Flyer No. 5300, painted in its original iconic Landor white, gold, and orange livery. It is expected to carry passengers alongside No. 776 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both Sundays.
1938 Muni motor coach No. 042 (long numbered 062), restored to its original paint scheme, at Woods Motor Coach Division, October 2012.
Muni’s motor coach history will be represented by two buses. One, definitely planned for operation, is 1969 GMC “New Look” No. 3287, painted in its as-delivered maroon and yellow livery, a short-lived Muni paint scheme borrowed from the California Street cable cars. Possibly joining it in service would be Muni’s oldest bus, vintage 1938 No. 042. This bus spent most of its life on the 39-Coit route (renumbered to 062), and is currently finishing up a complete rebuilding by Muni’s Woods Division crafts workers. It has been given back its original number and painted in its eye-popping original orange and black livery (too bad it wasn’t ready for the first games of the World Series!). At this writing, it is not likely it will be ready for November 4, but it may be finished by November 11. Whichever motor buses do operate will follow a short route from the museum, still being determined, from around 10 a.m – 5 p.m. They would operate as excursion vehicles, with no stops en route.
This will be the biggest operating day of Muni’s centennial celebrations. The actual 100th anniversary date, December 28, falls in a week when many people are out of town, so we and Muni management agreed it would be better to celebrate before then, but after the America’s Cup and Fleet Week activities.
We will provide you with any updates we receive as soon as we get them, so watch this space! Hope to see as many of you as possible on November 4 and 11.