The Ballad of an F-line Trip

In 1901, the poet Gelett Burgess penned a poem that celebrated a cable car ride. Specifically, The Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip chronicled the feeling of riding what was then San Francisco’s newest cable car line, the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line, which had opened ten years before. The rule of that day was that any new cable car line was ‘inferior’ at the crossings to older lines, meaning that a gripman on the new line had to drop the cable at every crossing of an older line to keep the grip from slicing through the older line’s ‘superior’ cable, which crossed above the new line’s cable. Since the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line was the newest line of all, its gripmen had to drop the cable 22 times on every roundtrip, which is why Burgess wrote, “You are apt to earn your wages, on the Hyde Street Grip.”
As our readers know, the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line was dismembered in 1954, with part of the Hyde Street portion joined to part of the Washington-Jackson line to become the ‘new’ Powell-Hyde line in 1957. But the poem continued to entertain those interested in cable cars, including one of our Market Street Railway members, Bruce Battles, who decided the F-line needed its own poem to match Burgess’ account: The Ballad of an F-line Trip. Read the original Burgess poem here.
The hills are slanting steeply, and you hope the brakes will hold –
The curves up on the J-line will make your blood run cold!
There’s not much time for schmoozing, and little chance to yak,
As soon as you get to Castro, it’s time to start heading back!
Your car is always crowded – they’re packed in hip to hip!
There’s at least 300 boardings, on every F-line trip!

Go easy there on Beach Street, where the track is near the curb,
And watch her at Pier 39 – that loop’s a real tight curve!
Everywhere pedestrians, Pedi-Cabs, bikes, and cars,
Be careful of the tourists, when they’re coming out of bars!
Giving lots of directions – you can never make a slip,
You feel like you’re a Tour Guide, when you make an F-line trip!

There’s the air brake and controller, air whistle and the gong,
You’d best know how to use ’em, or you’ll soon be going wrong!
Shut her off through “special work”, or the pole will draw an arc –
The Line Department hates it when they see that great big spark!
Embarcadero is a speedway – you can hit her up a clip
Taking tourists to the Wharf, on another F-line trip!

From Fisherman’s Wharf to the waterfront, the Ferry Building too,
Then swing past Herman Plaza, as Market comes in view!
Past the Hyatt Regency, the Palace, and Kearney Street,
Your car is really filling up – there’s not one empty seat!
You pass the crowds at Powell Street – they’re waiting for the grip,
And you’re glad you’re on Electrics, as you make an F-line trip!

A trolley fan from Boston, where PCCs still run,
Can take a trip to Mattapan, and think that it was fun.
A guy from Philadelphia, (they sold us some PCCs),
Can go and ride 15-Girard, and glide along with ease!
But Philly’d give his Cheesesteak, and Boston – well, man, he’d flip,
For a chance to ride out Market on an F-line trip!

Oh, the lights are in the Castro – will the parties never end?
Hear those PCC cars leaving, as they squeal around the bend
From Seventeenth onto Market, as they try another stint
To hit the dip at Church Street, and then go past the Mint.
Down the hill above Valencia, you can really let her rip,
As you try to make your schedule on an F-line trip!

When the theaters are closing, and the crowds are on the way,
The farebox gets real busy, as you near the end of day.
The wait on Jones near Beach Street is very seldom still
As the tourists are out strolling, and looking for a thrill!
But the beacon on Mount Sutro through the rolling fog does rip
As the hush of midnight’s broken by another F-line trip!