Miss Cable Car

by Joe Thompson

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Background

San Francisco has held a Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest more or less annually since 1955. Until some time in the 1970s, there was also a Miss Cable Car contest. Miss Cable Car's primary duty was to appear at the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest.

Why did they stop? Probably because of some combination of increasing awareness of women's rights and the contestants suffering from hypothermia.


Miss Cable Car 1967 - Mary Gallagher


Miss Cable Car 1968 - Jennifer (Foreman) de Grassi

In 2006, I received an email from Jennifer Williams, who had been Miss Cable in 1968. Jennifer kindly provided some photos and newspaper clippings, and told some interesting stories about her experiences in the contest. The Miss Cable Car contest was held that year at the end of the Hyde Street line. There was a reception after at the Haslett Warehouse, which was the proposed site of a history museum. I have narrowed the date the contest was held to mid- to late-August of that year.

Jennifer Williams went on to be Idaho Teacher of the Year in 2002.

"(I)t was an incredible experience for a young girl -- marching around Union Square, bikini-clad, in the fog. I was a student at a local modeling school and they entered me 'on a fluke'- not really believing I'd win. I had nobody there that even knew me. As another fluke, a dear family friend happened to be in SF snapping photos and didn't realize I was in the contest, until I won. In two weeks I celebrate my 60th birthday, but still have my Cable Car trophy, a few photos, and a place tucked away in my heart for the confidence that single event provided in my own life. I was actually offered an acting role in Hollywood because of the contest, but decided to continue my studies at the University of Hawaii. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband, four accomplished children and am still teaching after 35 years. If there is ever an opportunity- maybe for the 'old Cable Car queens' to be a part of the festivities, I'd gladly come."

Rang the Bell
An undated clipping from the San Francisco Chronicle shows Jennifer (Foreman) de Grassi at the left in the right-hand photo, at a reception held at the Haslett Warehouse, which was the proposed site of a history museum. Jennifer Williams Collection.

Cable Car Belles An undated clipping from the San Francisco Chronicle shows Clarissa Williams (runner up), Jennifer de Grassi (winner), and Bonnie Graber (runner up), posing on car 62. Jennifer Williams Collection.

Belle Rings An undated clipping from a San Francisco newspaper shows Jennifer de Grassi posing on a cable car after winning the Miss Cable Car title. Jennifer Williams Collection. July, 2007 Picture of the Month.

Muni Maiden An undated clipping from a San Francisco newspaper shows Jennifer de Grassi posing on a cable car after winning the Miss Cable Car title. Jennifer Williams Collection.

Portrait on Ladder A publicity photo taken at Union Square shows Jennifer de Grassi posing on a ladder, next to the bell of car 62. Jennifer Williams Collection.

Union Square
A publicity photo taken at Union Square shows Jennifer de Grassi posing with various civic leaders at the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Jennifer Williams Collection.


Miss Cable Car 1971 - Kathy Cooper

She attended the ceremony on 29-October-1971, near the Hyde and Beach turntable, which marked car 506 being pictured on a US commemorative postage stamp which went on sale the next day. San Francisco postmaster Lim P Lee presented Miss Cable with a bouquet of flowers.


Miss Cable Car 1972 - Francesca Cresci

Francesca Cresci Written on the back of the photo: "Francesca Cresci, 36-24-36, crowned Miss Cable Car 1972 at The Annual Car Bell-Ringing Competition." The car looks like Number 62.


Miss Cable Car 1973 - Barbara Davies

I had the honor to have lunch with Barbara Davies Walsh at the 2007 Cable Car Division Senior Luncheon.

Car One The date is July 19, 1973, and Powell Street Cable Car No. 1 built as the "Centennial Car" has just been presented to the people of San Francisco. No. 1 was completed on May 2, 1973, with the roof and seats from first No. 506, a Carter Bros. car. In 1973 Powell Street cable cars were painted green and cream, the then standard Muni paint scheme. No. 1, however, was painted in the maroon and cream colors of the Powell Street Railway, the original operator in 1888 of the Powell Street cable cars. Pictured in front of No. 1 are Fred Stindt, Miss Garbo Wong "Miss Chinatown," Friedel Klussmann "The Cable Car Lady" and Miss Barbara Davies "Miss Cable Car 1973."

Miss Cable Car/Brendan Scanlan Barbara Davies Walsh, with the Superintendent of the Cable Car Division, Brendan Scanlan at the 2007 Cable Car Division Senior Luncheon. Photo by Val Lupiz.

Barbara was kind enough to provide some clippings and photos from her time as Miss Cable Car.

Palo Alto Times contest clipping
A clipping from the 03-June-1973 Palo Alto Times, shows Miss Cable Car, Barbara Jean Davies, posing on a cable car and holding a model of a Powell Street cable car. The caption explains that she will officiate at the bell ringing contest. Barbara Davies Walsh collection. February, 2011 Picture of the Month

Chronicle contest clipping A clipping from the 03-June-1973 San Francisco Chronicle explains that Barbara Jean Davies and her two princesses will appear at the next day's bell ringing contest. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

Examiner contest clipping
A clipping from Muni's house magazine, Trolley Topics, June-July 1973, shows Barbara Jean Davies with Al Davison, winner of the 1973 bell ringing contest. Joe Lacey collection.

Larry Lewis
On 25-June-1973, Larry Lewis celebrated his 106th birthday. Here he lifts a toast of spring water with Barbara Jean Davies on Clay Street Hill car 8, which would celebrate its 100th birthday in August. I remember Herb Caen quoting Lewis as saying he couldn't get excited about the centennial of the cable cars, since they were younger than he was. He had retired from his job as a waiter at the Saint Francis earlier that year, and still jogged six miles every day. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

decorated car
Barbara Jean Davies passes Union Square on a Powell Street cable car decorated for the centennial. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

Fourth of July clipping A clipping from a July, 1973 San Francisco Chronicle, show Miss Cable Car, Barbara Jean Davies. It describes how the annual Fourth of July fireworks at Candlestick Park would have a cable car theme because of the centennial. Barbara appeared with the Golden Gate Park Band. Broadcaster Art Finley, Mayor Art, would be master of ceremonies. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

decorated car
Barbara Jean Davies hands motorman George W Nelson his Muni Man of the Month award on 26-April-1974. His fellow Muni men remember him as a good man and a safe operator. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

Examiner contest clipping
A clipping from the Trolley Topics, Feb-Mar 1974, shows Barbara Jean Davies with Al Davison, winner of the 1973 bell ringing contest. Joe Lacey collection.

Kirkland Division
Barbara Jean Davies stands with Muni General Manager Curtis E Green and Mayor Joe Alioto at a Valentine's Day ceremony at Kirkland Division on 14-February-1975. H Welton Flynn, President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, is visible between Green and Alioto. I think I have one of those "Muni Loves You" buttons. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

Button
A "Muni Loves You" button. Curtis Green had drivers hand these out, but riders did not always love Muni, which was going through some serious operating problems. Art Curtis collection.

Miss Cable Car 1977
Barbara Jean Davies crowns her successor in 1977 at the bell ringing contest. Does anyone remember her name? Barbara Davies Walsh collection.

thank you letter
Barbara Jean Davies received a thank you letter from the Public Utilities Commission in 1976, when her extended term ended. Barbara Davies Walsh collection.


I hope Muni will make a place for Jennifer, Barbara and other former Miss Cable Cars at the contest some year. I imagine some people worry about falling afoul of political correctness.


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Last updated 01-August-2017