by Joe Thompson
line: Clay Street
opened: 01-Sep-1873. Clay Street from Kearny to Leavenworth
extended: 1877. Clay Street to Van Ness.
powerhouse: Clay & Leavenworth
grip: Hallidie bottom grip, screw-operated
cars: single-ended dummy & trailer trains. Grip car 8 is on display at the Cable Car Museum in SF
turntables: double turntables at each end. Each was used to turn the car 90 degrees. This was necessary because the cable ran through the turntables.
The first person to propose a cable car line in San Francisco was Benjamin H. Brooks, an attorney. City records show that Brooks was granted a franchise for a cable line in 1870, along with C.S. Bushnell, E.W. Steele, and Abner Doubleday, the man who didn't invent baseball in Cooperstown, NY. They proposed a long system from downtown on various streets out to Cow Hollow. Brooks and engineer W.H. Hepburn worked out many of the mechanical details of the system. Brooks and his associates were unable to find financing, and Brooks' legal business was time consuming, so they sold their franchise to Andrew Smith Hallidie, a wire cable manufacturer.
Hallidie was able to find the financing to build the Clay Street Hill Railroad, the first successful cable car line. The line was largely designed by William E. Eppelsheimer. The first test run took place on 02-Aug-1873, and revenue service began on 01-Sep-1873.
Read a contemporary newspaper article about the first test:
This line climbed Nob Hill and allowed the residential area of San Francisco to expand to the west. It connected the business area of Kearny Street with Nob Hill.
The company was acquired by Ferries & Cliff House Railway on 08-Sep-1888. FCH discontinued the line on 09-Sep-1891 and replaced it with the Sacramento/Clay line.
Read "The End of the Clay Street Hill Railroad", two 1892 magazine articles about the end of the original line, with an introduction by Walter Rice.
Grip car 8 survived because the FCH sent it and CSH trailer 1 to Chicago for display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It also appeared at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis. 8 wound up at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore. The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society found it and brought it to San Francisco in 1936. RLHS moved 8 to the Cable Car Museum in 1966. No one knows what happened to the trailer. Other CSH equipment burned at Washington and Mason in 1906.
There is a plaque at the Clay and Kearny terminal of the line, which marks California State Historic Landmark 500.
The Wells Fargo History Museum, renovated in 2013-2014, has a display case with a model of a Clay Street Hill Railroad cable car and mementos of Andrew S Hallidie.
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Copyright 1996-2014 by Joe Thompson. All rights reserved.
Last updated 01-October-2014