“Trackless Trolleys”?

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at Grant Avenue. Streetcars are still very much on the scene, including then-new double-end PCC 1009, still operating on the E-line today!

The conversion turned two dozen streetcar lines into bus routes. The majority of those conversions were to trolley coaches. Interestingly, Chronicle articles of the day referred to the new electric buses as “trackless trolleys”, a term mostly used in the East. Use of that term didn’t last long here; riders were soon referring to them as “trolley buses” while Muni officially called them “trolley coaches”.

A couple of clarifications on the article: Hartlaub seems to imply that the plans of PUC General Manager James Turner called for complete elimination of tracks on Market Street, when in fact only the outer tracks were taken up. He also noted that the only environmental benefit Muni seemed to tout for the new trolley buses was that the interiors wouldn’t smell bad. Not surprising that Muni would focus on this, though, since riders of converted streetcar lines had for a year been riding on interim gasoline motor coaches from White Motor Company, which had terrible ventilation that filled their interiors with gasoline fumes.

Overall, it’s a very good read. Worth your time.