SAN FRANCISCO: that was THE CITY that was

By Val J. Golding

Part I: Let There be Railways

This story is not intended to be a comprehensive history of street railways in San Francisco, nor, for that matter, is it intended to be a comprehensive anything. What it does hope to offer, aimed perhaps at folks who hadnít the opportunity to experience it in person, is a peek at a brief period in San Francisco streetcar history, viewed through the eyes of a devout railfan whose young eyes were fortunate enough to have observed in person those wondrous halcyon days and events that to others are merely legends. As a young boy, endowed with near-eidetic memory, my familiarity with the two streetcar systems in San Francisco and their cars, was such that I knew by memory the types of motors, controllers, air brakes, etc., in virtually every class running at that time.

Faced with the goal of reporting both historical fact and subjective recollections, the task of melding them into a gestalt is challenging indeed. Historically, a strict timeline would normally be followed. But in the interest of also grouping related events together I found it necessary to occasionally stray from the straight and narrow. With this thought in mind, it is hoped the reader will come along for the trolley ride, ignoring any seeming inconsistencies or repetitions.

The author, Val Golding, is pictured with other San Francisco railfans, at a meeting held March 30, 1947 of the California Railfans Association, primarily a teen group, at Bob Townley's summer home in Pescadero, CA. Standing Left to Right, Tom Gray, Bob Crossett, the late Emmanuel Mohr, Val Golding. Seated, the late Dick Brown, Walt Vielbaum, Bob Townley. Credit: Richard C. Brown photo, Val Golding collection

In the beginning...

Certainly San Franciscoís street railways in the twenties, thirties and forties represented one of the largest and finest systems in America. Spurred on by the gold rush of 1849, San Francisco grew to a major city almost overnight. Accordingly, in the early 1850s, horsecars sprang up like weeds to meet the transportation needs of the citizens. Soon after came the era of steam dummies and in 1873, Andrew Hallidieís famous invention which survives today, the cable car.

In the early 1890s came Frank Spragueís electric trolleys which forever would change the face of public transit in San Francisco. In 1893 the [first] Market Street Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad, came to life, consolidating many of the horse, steam, cable and electric lines in San Francisco. A further consolidation occurred in 1902 when the United Railroads of San Francisco (URR) was formed to operate all but three or four of the numerous transportation companies.

A major disruption to transit service occurred in the aftermath of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 which destroyed almost all of the downtown cable railways. Electric trolleys gained an early foothold in the city, an expansion that, had it not been for post-fire reconstruction, would have taken many more years. At that time the URR purchased 50 cars (1500-1549) products of the American Car Company, originally built for the Chicago City Railway. In its rush to place these cars in service the URR never repainted them in the then current URR red and cream paint scheme. Instead, the Pullman green of the Chicagos became the standard for URR and its successor company, the Market Street Railway, for years to come.

At the same time URR ordered 200 cars (1551-1749) commonly called "the 1600s," from the St. Louis Car Company. Equipped with powerful GE-90 motors and mounted on Brill 27-G trucks, the Market Street Railway started scrapping some of these heavyweights as early as 1930, using the salvaged trucks, motors and controls on newly-built California Comfort Cars.

In 1912 the city itself took an active role in public transit, inaugurating its own competing electric railway. The initial service was route "A," Geary and Park, which ran from Geary and Kearney to 10th Avenue and Fulton Streets. The first 20 streetcars, built by the W. L. Holman Company in San Francisco, were designed by railway consultant Bion J. Arnold. These were handsome, narrow, arch-roof, rib-sided cars, of which Number 1 survives today in magnificently restored condition. Number 1 is frequently found in revenue service on todayís "F" line.

The Municipal Railway (Muni) by 1919 operated 197 streetcars on ten routes. Driven by Muni competition and mounting financial problems from various other causes, the URR was foreclosed upon and declared bankruptcy. In 1921 The United Railroads was reorganized as The Market Street Railway Company (MSRy). Not by coincidence, that same name is in use today by a railfan group that has been largely responsible for the restoration and daily operation of many of the historic San Francisco streetcars.

Background and history

As a teenager and pre-teener I grew up in San Francisco during the years before and during World War II, cutting school and hanging out on the streetcars. Even at nine years of age I was a precocious child, traveling by myself to Treasure Island and the Worldís fair of 1939-40. I concluded that nothing was off limits to me and thus at my young age I visited frequently with Charlie Miller, the Market Street Railway Superintendent of Equipment and Duke Ormsby, Superintendent of Transportation for the Muni. Today I suppose my boldness would be limited to picking up the phone and calling to make an appointment.

At the time I became involved, there were still two major companies, the privately owned Market Street Railway Company and the city-owned Municipal Railway. The Muni (sometimes "Muny") was antiseptic and conformist. Operating 238 streetcars of six classes, each was like its sister, well maintained, no distinguishing marks, totally devoid of personality. The ten Muni routes were designated by letters while the private company lines were numbered. In addition, the bankrupt California Street Cable Railroad was eventually sold to the city which resumed operating their three routes under the Muni flag on January 13, 1952.

On the other hand, cars of the decrepit Market Street Railway Company, on its last legs and beset by financial woes originating with the great depression, were everything a young railfan could desire. Over the course of its lifetime and that of its predecessor company, United Railroads, almost 30 different streetcar classes, to say nothing of sub-classes, could be counted. The fleet at one time consisted of more than 700 cars operating some 40 electric and five cable routes. Such a difference! Here almost every car had its own personal story to tell; seldom were two cars exactly alike.

A deadly accident

United Railroads one-man car 1022 looks a little the worse for wear after tragic Visitation Valley accident July 22, 1918. 1022 eastbound on the Visitacion Valley line, loaded with over 100 passengers, apparently lost its air on the long Walbridge Street (now Geneva Avenue) downgrade and derailed at the right-angle turn to northbound Schwerin Street. The car overturned and was demolished. At least eight died and 70 were injured in the crash. The importance of the accident was that it sounded the death knell for one-man cars in San Francisco for the next 40 or so years. Credit: United Railroads photo, Val Golding collection.


As early as 1914, the United Railroads, predecessor company to the Market Street Railway, converted three of its 1000 class cars for one-man operation to serve on the lightly patronized Visitacion Valley line. This route was so insignificant that it never received a route number designation although some later records do show it as route 39.

Tragically, in July 1918, one-man car 1022 eastbound on the Visitacion Valley line, loaded with over 100 passengers, apparently lost its air on the long Walbridge Street (now Geneva Avenue) downgrade and derailed at the right-angle turn to northbound Schwerin Street. The car overturned and was demolished. At least eight died and 70 were injured in the crash. The remaining two cars were soon converted back to two-man operation.

From newspaper reports it appears the air pressure was down to 40 pounds, at least that was what the gauge showed when examined later. A spokesman for the URR stated the company had received reports of passengers tampering with switches on the cars. With a crowded car it would have been easy to turn off the air compressor switch. A company official later said sabotage was suspected. Additionally, on peak load trips that carried shipyard workers to their job, it apparently was a common practice to allow one of the workers to take the controls while the motorman collected fares. The real cause may never be known, but it remains that this lone tragedy sounded the death knell for one-man cars in San Francisco for the next 40 or so years.

Shortly thereafter, the company went into receivership, sending the URR and its successor into a financial tailspin from which they never fully recovered, partially at least as a result of damage claims from the Visitacion line accident. While itís highly unlikely a second crewman could have prevented the runaway, the public felt otherwise.

An era in decline

The financially ailing MSRy deferred maintenance of equipment, right-of-way and overhead, wherever it could. Consequently, pounded by the heavyweight 1500s and 1600s, the rails were in such poor condition as to shake the living daylights out of even the newer equipment. Swaying from side to side, riding roughshod over deteriorating trackage, most of the gallant surviving MSRy cars continued operating until their demise in July 1949.

All over America in the twenties and thirties, automobiles came of age, made great inroads competing with the trolley car. For the street railways it was a losing battle, made even tougher by the great depression. Streetcar operators saw huge decreases in revenue, even with the advent of the Birney Safety car, a lightweight, one-man single-truck car. Inevitably, the one-man car, at best a stop-gap solution, only delayed the inexorable conversion to busses. One by one, the traction companies and their streetcars withered away.

In an effort to attract additional patronage, the MSRy Elkton shops constructed 256 new lightweight wooden streetcars known as "California Comfort Cars," between 1923 and 1933. However, these cars were not totally new, since reconditioned trucks, motors and electrical equipment from previously scrapped cars were placed under many of the new bodies.

One-man cars

Soon after the Visitacion line accident, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance prohibiting one-man car operation within San Francisco. This was the status quo in 1933 when faced with steeply declining revenues, the Market Street Railway sought to repeal the one-man ordinance. The Board of Supervisors denied the request, but in 1934 the company was successful in obtaining a court injunction against enforcing the ordinance.

Market Street Railway's only steel cars, 402 to 406 were among MSRy 's finest with sleek, modern lines. St. Louis Sedan Car 404 is shown here at the south Ferry terminal on the lightly patronized 35-Howard. In 1934 the company was successful in obtaining a court injunction against enforcing the cityís one-man streetcar ordinance. No. 404, purchased in 1936 from East St. Louis & Suburban Railway, was one of 41 cars purchased from either East St. Louis or Williamsport, PA. for one-man service. MSRyís Elkton shops converted 133 of its own rolling stock to one-man operation. The courts reversed themselves and MSRy's one-man operation in San Francisco ended in 1939. Car 404 and its sisters were relegated to the "Boneyard" at Lincoln Way and Funston and the MSRy moved towards conversion to one-man buses! Credit: S.F. Public Library/Val Golding collection.

Immediately the MSRy put in place a plan to convert several of its lines to one-man operation. The MSRy scrounged used equipment from all over the country and the Elkton shops set about ambitiously converting cars for one-man service. All told, 41 one-man cars were purchased used from systems in East St. Louis and Williamsport, PA. At the same time MSRyís Elkton shops converted 133 of its own rolling stock to one-man operation. The first line to go one-man was the 36-Folsom in early 1935.

The court battles continued, eventually reaching the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Thus the Circuit Court of Appeals gave the MSRy until February 1939 to restore all two-man service. Not all of the imported one-man cars could easily be converted to two-man operation and were thus relegated to the "Boneyard" at Lincoln Way and Funston.

The Boneyard

The infamous "Boneyard" looking northeast from Funston and Irving with a sea of ninety-three derelict streetcars, mainly MSRy "California Comfort Cars," about 1940. The cars were made surplus because of sharp depression-related service reductions, the companyís 1939 failure to operate one-man streetcars and subsequent conversion of lines to motor coach. Later these cars would be cleared out making way for still more out-of-service cars, including Muniís Union Street dinkies (class "J") and the famous 1200-class San Mateo Interurban cars. Credit: San Francisco Public Library/Val Golding collection.

The Boneyard was just a big empty lot, a streetcar graveyard comprising the entire block between Lincoln Way and Irving Street and Funston and 14th Avenues. Here, cars in dead storage were exposed to the elements and deteriorated in short order. A small structure served as a gilley room for the few 6, 7 and 17 runs which were dispatched from the Boneyard. These runs were left over from the tiny Haight Street carhouse, overcrowded ever since Oak and Broderick carhouse closed in 1938 and the 6 line was moved to Haight. Funston Yard (its proper name) also served as a marshaling area for football trippers serving nearby Kezar Stadium.

Stored in the Boneyard at the end of the brief one-man era were the deck-roofed Visitacion twins 735 and 736, the other eight Brill Semi-convertibles, 725-734, all from the Williamsport Railway; the East St. Louis Railway cars 740-754 and 407-410 as well as the five magnificent St. Louis "Sedan" cars, 402-406, which in service plied the unimportant 35 Howard line. These all steel Sedan cars were the most modern cars owned by the MSRy. While not particularly speedy, they certainly were among the finest cars operated by that company.

The 400s and 700s and a few other oddball cars remained at the Boneyard only until 1941 when they were sent to Elkton Yard for scrapping. Ironically, as MSRy started converting to bus, space on the Boneyard tracks occupied by these remnants of one-man operation was soon filled by some of the very cars they originally replaced. The Boneyardís final use was to store all of the former MSRy cars made surplus by the Muni conversions to bus and trolleycoach.

I spent many an hour wandering through the Boneyard, marveling at the wondrous collection of has-been streetcars and playing motorman at the controls, most of which could be operated with a wrench. The imported cars were my favorites and were all gone by 1941. Remember, a few Haight and Stanyan runs operated from Funston, so as the yard approached full storage capacity, a few laid-up cars were sent to Sutro Division which then moved its 4-line cars to McAllister barn in a game of musical streetcars. This was around 1940 when the MSRy had been forced to take all the one-man cars out of service. To my pre-teen eyes all of this shuttling about was thrilling to watch.

Part II: Merging Traffic

Bus conversions

In less than two years, starting in 1939, the MSRy purchased 115 new Yellow Coach (later to be GMC) motor coaches of which just 11 were diesel powered. Seating capacity ranged from 27 to 37. The most recent was an order of 30 Yellow Coach model TG-4502s numbered from 401 up. The 400s were assigned to the heavy Third Street lines. In order to carry more standees, they had only single seats on the right hand side as far back as the rear door. These coaches were to be the basis for replacing several unprofitable streetcar lines which, because of the city ordinance, could not be operated by one man. In 1942 the 400s were supplemented by three new TG-4505s and 16 TD-4505s leased from the U.S. Navy. This enabled the MSRy to operate a new Third Street line serving Hunterís Point Naval Shipyard.

To expedite loading at various locations, the company stationed collectors ("loaders") to collect fares, issue transfers and load motor coach passengers through the rear doors. The rear doors were normally operated by passengers stepping on a treadle plate inside. To prevent the doors from closing, the 400s were equipped with external door valves which collectors could operate with special keys. It just so happened that a single link from a streetcar fender chain bent at 90 degrees in just the right place worked perfectly to open the rear doors. I even remembered to thump the side of the bus twice, just as the collectors do when all passengers are loaded.

The Third Street lines, 15, 16 and 29 were partially converted to bus in September of 1941 although occasional 15 cars still ran as far south as the S.P. Depot. Several other lines, including the 19-Polk also commenced jointly operating busses and streetcars during this same period. Almost in the same breath, the MSRy replaced the Sacramento-Clay cable and the Castro cable with busses.

Under later Muni aegis, wartime needs brought about a partial restoration of the 16 line in May 1945. To serve Bethlehem Shipyards, new single track rail was laid from Third and Mariposa east to Illinois Street where a switch connecting into an existing railroad siding was constructed. New overhead was strung from Third Street to 19th and Illinois. All shipyard streetcars ran with empty rooftop number boxes.

Making the rounds

I was known to just about every shopman in San Francisco, MSRy and Muni alike. Some delighted in throwing me off the property but most either ignored me or were somewhat friendly. My typical day was visiting the MSRy paint shop at Elkton Yard or the Muni paint shop at Geary barn. Across Fillmore street from the Turk and Fillmore carhouse was one of several MSRy power substations. The howl of its generators could be heard from blocks away. Turk and Fillmore was where I went to visit my friend and mentor, the late Jerry Graham, always a source of great information and the latest rumors.

At Elkton I checked out what was new and then wandered around the yard, playing on some of the rarely used but still serviceable work equipment. After that I figured where to locate some of my motorman friends, usually Lorin Silleman or Bert Ward to take a ride somewhere. I was particularly fond of the 40-San Mateo Interurban, the only line other than the Sloat Boulevard private right-of-way where cars had a chance to get up and run at close to top speed. Sloat Boulevard at that time was still relatively undeveloped and conducive to wide-open running.

On other days I hung out at the end of one of the car lines, changing fenders and trolleys, and occasionally more. Some of my favorites were the outer terminals of the "L," "H" and 31 lines and at Daly City where several lines converged. I literally lived and breathed streetcars. On some days I actually attended school.

Sometimes I went out early in the morning, not returning home until late at night. I used to live at 42nd and Kirkham in the outer Sunset District and often rode the 7 home. Strong competition from Muniís nearby N-line left many late night 7 cars running nearly empty. The last required full stop was at 20th Avenue and Lincoln Way where the 17 turned off and headed south. Late at night, with no other passengers on board, the motorman would wind it up and let it romp. Lincoln Way was downhill all the way to the beach, so we probably got close to 40 mph. The rickety MSRy 100s had notoriously bad brakes, so around 35th Avenue or Sunset Boulevard Iíd tell the motorman "41st, please," at which point he immediately threw off and slammed the brake handle all the way over to full service. Depending on the particular car it might come to a stop anywhere between 40th and 45th.

The carhouses

I visited all of the carbarns, Geneva most frequently, since it was adjacent to Elkton Yards. Geneva Division was also the home of the Geneva wrecker, a short double truck car loaded with every imaginable type of rerailing device, chains, tools and anything needed to work on or tow a disabled car. I was fortunate enough to be able to ride it in service once or twice. Turk and Fillmore also had a wrecker but I never saw it used. My recollection is of a single trucker converted from an early passenger car. Every barn was assigned similar single truck sand cars and most had wreckers as well. Sand cars went out on the hillier routes before the first pullouts of the day and sanded the thickly dew-coated rails.

Oak and Broderick carhouse was closed in 1938 and its cars transferred to other divisions. This was well before my time but it remained an MSRy property. I found a way down into its basement through a sidewalk entry, as I recall. Along with a friend, I prowled around the huge collection of dank, moldy papers and found many real treasures, photos and books, etc. One such treasure was a collection of "Inside Track," MSRyís excellent house magazine. We also found interesting correspondence and books of transfers still in usable condition. Unfortunately, at that time I had a severe allergy to mold so I often went home coughing and sneezing unendingly and with my eyes running.

The carhouse that held the most fascination for me was Kentucky, located at 23rd and Third Streets, walking distance from where I then lived. Kentucky Street, later renamed as Third Street, was the source of Kentucky barnís name which was retained until the end. What intrigued me most was the 22-Fillmore crosstown line which made Kentucky its southern (or eastern) terminal. The 22 completed a loop through the yard in back of the carhouse, stopping inside the barn just a foot or two from the street. I had never before heard of a streetcar actually running through a carbarn while in service.

Kentucky housed some of the more esoteric lines, the third Street group 15, 16, 28 and 29 plus the 30-Army Street, 41-Second Street-S.P. Depot and the First and Fifth dinky. Kentucky had a genuine rare crop of cars including some of the early pre-one-man era 700s that ran the 28 and 29. It closed in April 1941, shortly after the Third Street lines were converted to bus. The short-run 15 and the 41 moved to other divisions. No wonder then that years later I chose Kentucky as the prototype carbarn for my model streetcar layout. Originally a horsecar barn built in the 1870s, Kentucky was sold and torn down when streetcar service on outer Third Street ended.

Transfer, please

Even in the early years, the core of San Francisco was dense and compact. Carhouses at 28th and Valencia and 29th and Mission were both built on two levels and, at least prior to 1906, elevators were used to move streetcars from floor to floor.

Elevators, such as the one found at Washington-Mason where the barn was built on the side of a steep hill and because of the grade, had two levels. Elevators were used to transport cable cars from floor to floor. It wouldnít surprise me if they too were powered by streetcar motors although that doesnít seem very likely.

The penultimate intra-carhouse transportation mode was sideways. A few carhouses were very small and did not have enough space for a decent ladder track. Such was the case at Haight and Stanyan, Kentucky, 29th and Mission, Oak and Broderick, Castro Cable and possibly others. The solution to the space problem was a transfer table, a device used to shuttle equipment from one track to another within narrow confines.

As noted in the following section, MSRy and its predecessor, United Railroads manufactured their own equipment in house wherever possible. This applied also to the car house transfer tables which were nothing more than stripped-down sideways-operating streetcars. Their purpose, of course, was to shunt streetcars from track to track. The tables I saw were equipped with standard traction motors geared down very low and a K-10 (or K-12) controller with a standard reverse key. Instead of selecting forward or backward, the reverse key selected left or right. I once got to move the table at Haight and Stanyan, although not with a car on it.

Since Washington-Mason was a cable division there was still one more form of transportation: a Ford Model A, mounted on 3í-6" gauge railway wheels, shunted cable cars around inside the barn.

Whistle while you work

Of all the major traction companies throughout the United States I canít imagine one having a larger or more varied collection of work equipment. Most of the equipment was fashioned from obsolete passenger equipment. Whatever the task, a car could be found to handle it.

For starters, almost every carhouse had both a wrecker and a sand car. Then there were streetcar post offices and even a cable post office. And a money car to deliver cash payrolls and pick up daily farebox receipts. Parlor cars, funeral cars, sightseeing cars, track grinders, line cars, even a fender dip car went from barn to barn using a small crane and a well filled with black paint to dip Eclipse fenders.

There was also a compressor car to supply compressed air for jack-hammers, a sprinkler car, crane and derrick cars, a bucket loading sand elevator, some fine differential dumps, an electric shovel, a paint car, a wash car, rock crushers, a bitumen car, a plow car, a trash car, switch engines, you get the idea, a car for every application. The electric shovel was unique in that it wasnít even mounted on trucks. The shovel was simply hauled out to the work site and set on wood blocks. Power was supplied, however, from a trolley pole placed on nearby overhead.

The main reason for so much home-brew work equipment was financial. The Market Street Railway never purchased anything if something they already owned could do the job or could be converted to do the job. Elkton had a comprehensive shop facility, capable of almost any task set before it.

The bulk of the equipment was at Elkton Yard where I had the opportunity to see most of the cars close up and play on them. Other equipment was out in the field where it was used; for example, the sand loader at the Pacheco Street sand lot, a spur branching off the 17-line. I do recall having been there and at some of the other areas around town where equipment was in use or stored.

The White Car

The pride of San Francisco schoolchildren, MSRy offered the plush "White Car," (formally "San Francisco") free to school charters to go anywhere on the system, including the San Mateo Interurban. The "White Car" was part of the MSRyís policy to create "goodwill." Posed at the Elkton Shops, where the "White Car" had just finished a maintenance cycle. Fortunately, the car survives today at the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista waiting restoration. Credit: Richard Schlaich collection

One does not normally think of streetcars as anything but strict utilitarian transportation vehicles, but in San Francisco, and a few other cities as well, special passenger cars were constructed to serve as funeral cars, party cars, etc. They received the most luxurious of appointments, totally carpeted with draped windows and individual wicker seats with large comfortable plush cushions. Double-truck funeral cars 1, 2 and 3 were built along the lines of baggage cars with separate doors for the coffins. Cypress Lawn and Mt. Olivet Cemetery both had their own track, which connected to the San Mateo interurban line. Olivetís single-truck car was aptly named "Mount Olivet." The private party cars, "Hermosa" and "Sierra" were similarly appointed.

Of all the one-of-a-kind cars, the one most deserving attention in this section is the magnificent parlor car (later school car) "San Francisco." Just 37 feet long, the San Francisco has a beautiful clerestory (steamcoach) roof. Painted pure white with gold trim and known in later years as "The White Car," it was then dedicated to transporting school students on Elkton Shop tours and other trips at no charge. I once had the pleasure of riding it on a fan trip. The White Car is the only surviving parlor car and now resides in the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction, California. Her sisters, and the funeral cars as well, were all gone by the late twenties.

The San Mateo rebuilds

The Market Street Railway had so many one-of-a-kind cars sometimes it seemed as if they outnumbered the standards. I could write pages and pages describing all the oddballs, but Iíll limit it to just the San Mateo spares and a couple of honorable mentions.

Rebuilt to San Mateo Interurban standards as a result of major accident, 1716 (ex 1690) is on the ladder track at the Elkton Shops. This car and its two sisters 1715 and 1722 received bodies similar to the 266-994 class, but equipped with folding rear doors and paneled sliding front gates to mate with the San Mateo 1200s. For interurban service they used 50 hp GE57 motors with fast 22:63 gear ratios, McGuire 10-A trucks (from the 1500 class cars) and roof-mounted roller route number boxes Credit: Richard Schlaich collection.

Rebuilt as a result of major accidents were 1600 class cars 1715 (ex 1745), 1716 (ex 1690) and 1722. After going through some minor rebuilds, they emerged as arch roof California Comfort type cars. The new bodies were similar to the 266-994 class, but equipped with folding rear doors and paneled sliding front gates to mate with the San Mateo 1200s. For interurban service they used 50 hp GE57 motors with fast 22:63 gear ratios, McGuire 10-A trucks (from the 1500 class cars) and roof-mounted roller route number boxes.

The rebuilds were used primarily as trippers on the 40 and the 12 but also worked other Geneva barn lines. Handsome cars were they, somewhat lighter than the original 27 ton 1600 class behemoths from which they were spawned. At 54,000 pounds, the St. Louis 1600s literally beat the rails to death. Another accident rebuild was 1508 of the 1500 class. The only one of its type, it too was given the standard arch roof body, but with conventional open gates.

Built expressly for the South San Francisco line in 1923, 1424 looked like a sister to 1715-16-22 with San Mateo-type folding rear doors and a typical California Comfort arch roof body. However, the resemblance ended there since 1424 had GE 247 motors, Brill trucks and a low speed 15:63 gear ratio. When it was replaced on the South City line by one-man cars, 1424 was rebuilt once more as a standard one-man- two-man car and renumbered 778.

Car 301 was built as a lightweight (17 ton) experimental low floor car and ran on the 8-Market-Castro. However, the crush loads of the 8-line were no match for 301ís grossly underpowered motors so it was soon removed from that service. After a period of storage and use as a "billboard" car, the lightweight, now numbered 401, was relegated to serve the unimportant 35-Howard for the rest of its years before moving to the Lincoln Way Boneyard.

Part III: Tours of Discovery

Playing favorites

I think my all time favorite line was the 31-Balboa. The 31 was the last new MSRy line, brought about in 1929 when most of the private companyís franchises were set to expire. After long negotiations the city finally agreed to give MSRy a 25-year blanket operating permit in exchange for building a new line supplementing service to the heavily populated Richmond District. The 31 opened for service May 15, 1932, replacing the 4-Turk and Eddy. The 4-line owl, however, continued its nightly treks until 1935. At that time Line 4 was assigned to a new route running out Sutter and Sacramento Streets to 6th Avenue and Fulton. Ironically, within six months of the inauguration of the 31, Muniís Geary lines felt the increased competition to the extent that their original line, A-Geary & Park was abandoned.

The Balboa line was noted for the "Balboa Dip." The dip consisted of two steep block-long grades, second steepest in the city (24th Street was first) from crests at 22nd and 24th Avenues with a gradient of 12.9% from 22nd to 23rd and a full 15% from 23rd to 24th. In either direction, cars started rather gingerly down the grade. About halfway down they released their air and wound it up to make it up the other side without slowing to a crawl.

Eclipse fender high in the air, Balboa high-speed 940, painted in the Muni era cream and green, crests the infamous "Balboa Dip" at 22nd Avenue. Only a very few months of the 31 streetcar are left as Muni has signed the car for "Powell and Market," a cut back operated from March 1949 until the end of streetcar service, July 2, 1949. Credit: Walt Vielbaum photo, Val Golding collection.

Outbound, the conductor would almost always ask the passengers if anyone wanted off at 23rd. If the answer was affirmative, the car would usually stop about three-quarters of the way down to discharge the passengers and then wind it up. Some cars would even back up a couple of car lengths to get a better run at the steep grade. The "Balboa high-speeds" with their fast 19:67 gear ratios were not noted for their hill-climbing ability. The workhorse Jewetts (101-180) occasionally worked the 31. Although notorious for their slack brakes, they were far better equipped to climb the 15% grade, having the slower 15:67 MSRy- standard gear ratio.

At one time I lived across Golden Gate Park to the southwest. I loved the rare hot summer days, you know, those beautiful early mornings when sounds from miles away can be heard. On gossamer winds through my open bedroom window, I could hear the unmistakable sound of GE-90 motors as early 31 line runs frolicked through the Balboa Dip.

If the 31 qualified as my favorite route, then it follows that 979, one of the so-called "Balboa High-Speeds," became my favorite car. I suppose I was attracted to that particular car because in 1939 it was the very first to be painted in the streamlined "zip-stripe" style, sometimes called "streamstyle." When I first spotted 979 in service with its fresh paint, I stared incredulously, then ran home to tell my folks "Thereís a new streetcar on the 31!"

Balboa high-speed 979 showing off the Market Street Railwayís striking new paint scheme featuring a bright yellow roof and trolley poles, white fronts (of course) and green sides with body-length white zip stripes shaped somewhat like a comet and tail. It is no wonder that 979 became the authorís favorite streetcar and its new colors forced the rival Muni to replace its traditional gray and red paint scheme with that of a more colorful blue and yellow scheme. "Zip Stripe" 979 is posed for the company photographer at 30th Avenue and Balboa, ca. June 1939. Credit: Market Street Railway photo, Val Golding collection. Colors hand paint by the late Charles Smallwood.

The paint scheme was quite striking with bright yellow roofs and trolley poles, white fronts (of course) and green sides with body-length white stripes shaped somewhat like a comet and tail. The car numbers were now painted in a tantalizing italicized Railroad Roman. The front destination roller sign for the first time displayed the route number, in white on a red background. Coincidentally this is the car whose colored photo adorns the dust jacket of "The White Front Cars of San Francisco." That year 34 streetcars and 46 motor coaches were painted in the new scheme. September 30, 1932 is the date 979 was outshopped.

The Balboa 900s were among the last and finest cars built in MSRyís Elkton shops. Nicknamed "Balboa High-speeds," Their speed was attributable to both their lightweight bodies and the relatively high speed 19:67 gear ratios. Mounted on Brill 27-GE2 trucks, they were equipped with fast release air brakes, GE-90, 50-hp motors and K-28 controls, some with Westinghouse TA-6 and others with GE LB2Bs and a couple of LB4B linebreakers. A Linebreaker takes the brunt of the high amperage power switching, reducing controller finger burning and flashbacks.

The "fast-release" brake valves made a distinctive two-phase air sound which I could also pick up from my bedroom. Later, as Muni started scrapping the Balboas. Many of the brake valves were transferred to Muni K-types and to preserved B-type 130, which at that time was wrecker 0131 and today plies the revitalized F-line.

To PCC or not to PCC

"Magic Carpet Car" 1001 has just left the Ferry building for a 36½ minute trip to the "Beach" on the "L-Taraval Street" line, during World War II. These 1939 streamliners (1001-1005) were, until the arrival in 1948 of ten double-ended PCC cars, San Franciscoís finest public transport vehicles. Muni, at first, had to discontinue their use on Sundays because so many people would let older cars pass by to enjoy a Magic Carpet ride. Credit: Walter Rice Collection.

Not too long after my delighted eyes discovered the "new" 979, I came across, wonder of wonders, a genuine new car, Muni 1001. Spotted on the north Ferry straight track, Muni had put the car on display, which is where I first found it. Imagine my surprise again as I spied for the first time this streamlined blue and gold beauty and once more ran home crying to my folks "Thereís a new streetcar at the Ferry!" Another streamliner had also been parked at Brighton and Grafton, the outer end of the "K" line.

Called "Magic Carpet Cars" by Muni, Car 1001 and her four sisters were delivered at the end of October 1939. The zip stripe paint scheme of the Market Street Railway, however, preceded them by several months. These five cars, which later became known as Class "C," were PCC cars that were not PCCs because the city charter forbade paying royalties. Thus while the bodies, motors and some of the trucks had been employed on standard Presidentís Conference Committee cars, there was an under-the-counter agreement made between Muni, the St. Louis Car Company and the Transit Research Corporation, the royalty owner, that if Muni agreed not to call them PCCs the TRC would waive some of the PCC license fees and royalties. When the royalty restriction was later stricken from the city charter Muni ordered ten double-enders, the first true PCCs.

Only the GE "Cineston" hand controls and the fact that they were double-ended differentiated the Magic Carpets from standard early PCCs. The hand controllers had both power points and brake points, not unlike some of the earliest streetcars dating from before the turn of the century.

Interestingly enough, the five streamliners were the first order of Muni cars without identical sisters. The five streamliners touted a mix of Clark B2 and Brill 97ER1 trucks with GE 1220E1 and Westinghouse 1432C motors, as follows:

1001, 1005 Clark and GE
1002 Clark and Westinghouse
1003 Brill and GE
1004 Brill and Westinghouse

It should also be mentioned here that the above configuration is correct and was verified by personal observation by my good friend, the late E. R. Mohr. An error in PCC from coast to coast transposes the Clark and Brill trucks under 1004 and 1005.

Although it has been widely disputed that these cars were true PCCs because no royalties were paid to Transit Research Corporation, they in fact were, at least those with the Clark trucks. PCC from coast to coast states that "correspondence dated from July 7 through November, 1939, between the City and County of San Francisco, the TRC, and the St. Louis Car Co. indicates that the TRC still insisted that patent royalties be paid on the cars" and the city [although claiming otherwise] disguised the payments in the purchase price. City regulations at that time forbade the payment of royalties.

Another unique aspect of Muniís Magic Carpet Cars was that heretofore the Brill 97ER1 trucks were supplied only with the J. G. Brill Companyís streamlined "Brilliners." Only 30 of these beautiful cars were built, mainly for Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Brilliner was Brillís arch-rival competition to the PCC cars manufactured by Pullman-Standard and St. Louis Car Co.

When in June 1954 the San Francisco electorate finally revoked the long-standing restriction on one-man cars, Muniís Magic Carpet cars, along with their second order of 10 PCCs, were converted to single-end, one-man operation. The Magic Carpets were taken out of service in 1959 and 1960; 1003 was sold to the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista where it remains one of the most popular cars there.

A switch in time

Any street railway worthy of note had its share of track switches. Many smaller cities went to one-man service early on. Some cars had hinged floor holes so the motorman could stop the car over a switch point and use an onboard switch iron to throw the switch. In cars not so equipped, the motorman stopped the car short of the switch and used a switch iron to throw it from the street.

At the other extreme, some cities, particularly larger ones, used semi-automatic switches with a tripper on the trolley wire. The motorman ran under the tripper with one point of power to set the track switch for the curve and coasted under to set it for the straightaway. When PCCs came on the scene it was no longer feasible to run under the pan with the power on. Therefore, track switches mounted on PCC control panels were designed to draw a small amount of current from the overhead.

San Francisco was blessed with both kind of switches. In addition, there were lever switches, such as the one at 11th and Market, described in the following section. The conductor leaves the car to hold the lever up while the motorman runs the car past the switch. This type of switch was obsoleted with the advent of one-man cars.

Beyond simply changing routes, switches served other purposes as well. For example, at certain critical locations, switches led to dead ends to prevent runaway cars. The MSRy 22-line had two such switches. One switch at 17th and Connecticut was at the end of a long downgrade. The track there turned left at a 90-degree angle, so a runaway car would fail to make the curve and overturn. The safety switch rails dead-ended in the pavement, allowing the wheels to dig into the asphalt, halting the car with minimal damage. A pan on the overhead set a timed delay insuring that cars come to a full stop. After successfully negotiating the curve, a second overhead pan resets the switch to its default derail state. A similar switch existed westbound at 16th and Harrison on the 22, a major intersection and steam railroad crossing. On the private right-of-way enroute to the Cliff House, the 2-line also had a derail switch to lead errant streetcars into the bushes.

Grand union

(or ĎOwl stretching timeí)

Market Street during the 1930s and 40s was a street of contrast. During the daytime hours there was a constant parade of streetcars, as shown in this 1939 view of Market Street looking west from First Street. The "White Front" cars belonged to the Market Street Railway. The gray cars were part of the Municipal Railway fleet. Note, the sidewalk tower where a switchman routs cars either to the Ferry or the newly opened Transbay Terminal. During the early morning "Owl" hours some lines did not run and others infrequently. Credit: Walter Rice collection.

One of the more unusual nighttime sights was the conglomeration of owl cars at Van Ness Avenue and Market every 30 minutes, starting at about 2 a.m. The K, L and N lines, to avoid running times of some 40-45 minutes each way to the Ferry, terminated at Van Ness Avenue. Providing 30 minute owl service required two cars for each of the owl lines. The J-line, with less than a 30-minute running time, was the only streetcar owl to travel the length of lower Market Street. A somewhat complicated switching procedure left the K, L and N cars lined up on Market just west of Van Ness with the outbound J right behind and the inbound J parked on the south side of the street. Meanwhile the two "H" owls arrived, spotted side by side on 11th Street just off Market.

The complicated switching procedure is itself worthy of remarking on. Inbound owls on Market stopped at 11th Street. The conductor went out and lifted a lever switch while the motorman maneuvered the car around the corner onto 11th Street. A half block south there was a crossover where the owl changed ends and headed north across Market to Fell and Van Ness. Again a change of ends, this time taking the crossover at Fell, proceeding south on Van Ness and traversing one more lever switch to head outbound on Market Street. All in all, a complex wye operation that years later was simplified with a crossover on Market, just east of 11th.

One by one, as the cars arrived at their pre-arranged meeting spot the crews hustled off to Comptonís Cafeteria for a quick cup of coffee. Not to be outdone, many of the regular passengers were already at Comptonís waiting for their cars to depart. At the prescribed time, crews and passengers alike would trot off to their respective cars. Two bells and off into the fog...

For the ĎLí of it

Many evenings I hung out at 47th and Wawona where the "L" cars took their layovers. There was a coffee shop there and it was usual for both motorman and conductor to go in, leaving the car unattended. Between about five and seven PM, there often were three, four or more cars lined up after the rush hour. When it came time for a car to depart, its crew came out and took off, leaving an empty spot a car-length or so back from the corner.

At the "L" line terminal I boarded the first car, now a car length or two back and moved it up to the corner. Then I went back, boarded the next car and repeated the process until all the cars were "properly" lined up. Most of the carmen knew me and didnít really care. I always carried a couple of tools with me and one wrench worked perfectly as a reverse key. Later, in high school foundry class I made molds of various controls and cast them, so I ended up with a rather complete collection of brake handles, reverse keys, etc.

The Old Man and the ĎCí

Thatís stretching a point just for the pun of it... Properly the head should read "The Old Man and the ĎH.í"

At Army and Potrero, the one-time southern terminal of the "H" line, I occasionally had "competition" helping change ends. There was a guy, perhaps in his sixties, known to me and to the carmen as "The Old Man."

His name may have been "Bill," but I donít remember for sure. He had a long scraggly beard and was generally unkempt. I recall he wore a conductorís coin changer around his waist and a beat up motormanís cap. He may have also worn the remnants of uniform pants or a vest. Often he would be there when I arrived, already busy reversing poles and changing fenders.

I figured the Old Man was a former carman, down on his luck. I occasionally saw motormen and conductors handing him coins and now and then a bill. I also saw him at 11th and Market from time to time, sometimes drinking coffee at Comptonís Cafeteria at Van Ness and Market, a major Muni relief point. Once in a while Iíd see him at some other place like the Bridge Terminal, but that was rare. By the time the Muni extended the "H" out over the former MSRy trackage to Wilde Avenue, I lost track of him and never saw him again.

The ĎDing Dong Daddyí of the ĎDí line

During this same period Francis VanWie was a conductor on the "D" line. VanWie achieved quite a reputation in the press as "The Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-Line." Moreover, when it came to light that he had married a number of women, all without benefit of divorce, the constabulary and the local courts took notice. Iím not positive of the eventual outcome but I believe he did serve some prison time.


The advent of World War II took an even greater toll on the already beat-up MSRy equipment with many inexperienced operators operating the badly deteriorated cars, consequently running them even further into the ground. Moreover, most of the better maintenance men had already volunteered for the military or been drafted.

The MSRy, restricted once again by city ordinance from operating one-man cars, was now in the process of trying to convert some of its routes to motor coach to save operating expense. This, however, was nipped in the bud when the federal government diverted much new equipment to cities with greater need. The MSRy of course, still had its streetcar fleet available to replace or supplement busses on some of the previously converted routes.

Some motormen, particularly those working out of Geneva Division, wore watches on their right wrists, face on the underside, making it easier to read than the conventional left wrist, face up position. Was there a reason for this seemingly strange practice? Indeed there was. With the then current state of maintenance, burnt controller fingers were rarely replaced or, heaven forbid, greased. Consequently, controllers on occasion produced spectacular arcs, a virtual certainty to toast traditionally worn watches.

Owing to heavy wartime loads, every last available car was pressed into service, even a number of cars that had been in dead storage at the Lincoln Way Boneyard. In addition, to better handle some of the crush loads and carry more standees, a number of MSRyís home-built cars had their interior partitions removed and longitudinal benches installed in place of the seats. These were the so-called "Victory Cars." Having lost much of their lateral strength, the Victory cars swayed from side to side and end to end even more violently than before.

Man about town

One of the most unusual wartime runs operating from Turk and Fillmore (or any carhouse for that matter) was piloted by motorman Ed Strong and known as the "Man About Town" tripper. That twice-a-day run brings to mind the old destination sign sometimes displayed on fan trips: "Nowhere in Particular" because its route covered portions of six different lines. Obviously, Strongís car ran without numbers in the rooftop number boxes. The car did, however, carry at least a half dozen dash signs on the front platform, which were displayed as appropriate. If I recall, car 778 (ex-1424) was assigned to that run. How that roundabout trip originally came into being I have not the slightest idea.

Iím not sure about the morning schedule, but to my best recollection the afternoon run pulled out around 2:00 PM and headed north on the 22 to Fillmore and Broadway. From there it followed the entire 22 line south to 18th and Third to pick up shipyard workers from Bethlehem Shipyards. Returning over the 22 as far as 16th and Mission, Strongís car then switched onto the southbound 14 line, continuing to Daly City.

From Daly City, 778 returned inbound on the 14 as far as 2nd and Market where it changed ends and became a 41 for two trips to the SP Depot. On the second run south, the tripper continued as a 20 on Townsend to Fourth, running outbound to Stanyan Street. Returning inbound, it went as far as Divisadero, turning north for three blocks (over route 24) and finally east on Turk over the 31 to wind up back at Turk and Fillmore carhouse. Itís possible the car may have turned back outbound at Divisadero, but at this late date I just canít recall.

A teen dream

Of course I dearly wanted to be a motorman. At every opportunity, particularly late at night when there were few or no passengers on board, I asked motormen to let me run the car. I really came to know a lot of them and most of them regarded me favorably and respected my young skill. With all the equipment in service during the war, I probably operated every type of car still running, except the floor-controlled PCCs. I also went to carhouses like Sutro that had no late night shopmen and shuttled cars around. It wasnít until many years later that I achieved my teen dream and became a motorman on the Yakima Electric Railway.

Wartime crew shortages were not without their benefits. Muni and Market both scrambled for crews to keep the cars running and to keep up with the heavy wartime loadings. Platform crews were often asked to double up and work two shifts. One of the inspectors stationed at Eleventh (Van Ness) and Market was previously a motorman of my acquaintance. So occasionally he sent an "N" motorman to eat at Comptonís Cafeteria and handed me the reverse key. I was probably 13 or 14 by this time. I took the "N" out to the beach and back where a motorman with a full tummy reboarded the car for the trip downtown. I often wondered what the passengers thought or if they even noticed. After all, I had my motormanís hat with badges, etc., by that time. But my, oh, my, opening that manual front gate gave my untrained muscles a real workout.

Part IV: Tricks of the Trade


As early as 1925 the first of several failed attempts by the city to purchase the private company was put before the voters. Likewise, several propositions to build a subway also suffered defeat. In 1943, Roger Lapham was elected mayor of San Francisco, running on a single term platform of transit unification. Finally, in a special election held May 16, 1944, voters at last approved acquisition of the rolling stock and properties of the Market Street Railway Company for $7.5 million. The city wasted no time putting the plan for a unified street railway system in effect. The long awaited consolidation took place the morning of September 29, 1944. The previous day, most of the MSRy cars carried a cardboard placard in a window, with the message shown below.

After serving you over a half century
Thank you & goodbye
SAMUEL KAHN, President"

On the last day of the Market Street Railway its cars carried this "Thank you & goodbye" sign. The phrase "After serving you over a half century" dates the company back to the 1893 organization of the Market Street Railway. During the United Railroads period (1902-1921), the MSRy continued as a financial corporation holding most of the United Railroads debt. The 1921 reorganization forced upon The United Railroads caused the Market Street Railway again to become an operating company. Credit: Robert Townley collection, photo processing by Val Golding.

With the consolidation scarcely under way, Muni immediately started removing the dash lights and repainting the front ends of the former MSRy cars to avoid paying royalties on their patented white front. Secondly, to avoid confusion, the former MSRy 100s were renumbered to 400s and the 200s to 600ís. Almost all of the former MSRy 200s were renumbered, even though conflicts existed only with Muni 201-213. At the time of the consolidation the MSRy fleet numbered 440 streetcars, 38 cable cars, nine trolley coaches and 154 motor coaches, approximately double the size of the cityís fleet.

One of the first major operations undertaken by the city was the removal of the outer tracks on Market Street and reconstruction of the badly worn inner tracks. Thus the "Roar of the Four" soon vanished and with it the inherent safety problems of passengers boarding inner track cars with Muni cars moving past on the outer tracks. Only two feet separated adjacent streetcars and if one happened to be a little... err... stout, that could be a problem.

The End was Near

The real effect of the merger was that of the larger MSRy absorbing the smaller Muni while continuing to operate under city management. Plans were developed to convert every one of the former MSRy routes to either trolley coach or motor coach. However, under the terms of the purchase agreement, the Muni could not make major changes or modifications to the MSRy properties until such time as the $7.5 million bond issue was paid off. With this restriction in place, the city commenced long range planning and in the short term set about supporting the war effort by returning stored former MSRy cars to service and where possible converting former MSRy bus routes back to streetcar operation.

By 1947 almost all of the former MSRy trackage was still in use with just a few minor reroutings and abandonments. In November of that year, voters approved a $20 million bond issue for modernizing the transit system. From that point on, things moved at a rapid pace. In just a year and a half, all of the remaining MSRy lines were converted to bus (many of which were later replaced by trolley coaches). Once the bus conversion was fait accompli, the original Muni streetcar lines B, C, D, E, F and H also fell to the ax.

Somehow, claiming the experience of riding the first or last cars or trains of a given service holds an immense appeal to railfans. Even in the early 90ís, I was among the passengers riding restored Muni car 130 on the first revenue trip over the J-line extension from Ocean and San Jose to 30th and Church. I always made it a point to ride on the last car operated on each abandoned line as did many other railfans. I donít think I missed a one. Akin to a fan trip, these congregations were a celebration of sorts in terms of the camaraderie, yet still sorrowful events.

The Muni purchased a large fleet of White motor coaches and Marmon-Herrington and Fageol Twin Coach trolley coaches to take over the former rail routes. In many cases motor coaches were temporarily assigned to trolley coach routes while rails were ripped up and dual trolley wires strung.

The Muni planned to convert the two Powell Street cable lines to bus and to this end purchased ten Twin Coach dual-engined motor coaches but the people were yet to be heard from. A spunky and indefatigable far-sighted lady named Freidel Klussman soon put an end thoughts of abandonment, raising public ire to the extent that a proposition to save the cables appeared in the November 1947 election. The vote was such that Muni management had no choice but to cave in and eventually rebuild almost from scratch the remaining cable system, today one of the cityís foremost tourist attractions.

Finally in 1952 the city purchased the bankrupt California Street Cable Railroad Company and at last all properties came under a single operator. In 1954 the California line was cut back from Presidio Avenue to Van Ness Avenue. The Jones Street shuttle and the OíFarrell, Jones and Hyde lines were abandoned. The Hyde Street leg in 1957 became part of Muniís hybrid Powell-Hyde cable.

Weird Tales

The era of consolidation and bus conversions, though depressing in the end, was nevertheless a delight for railfans as the unthinkable happened, with the former MSRy cars assigned to Muni routes and vice-versa. As some of the former MSRy lines were converted to bus, some rolling stock became surplus. MSRy 400s, 600ís and 900s frequently worked Muni routes, in particular the "C" and "H." Muni iron monsters were also found on the 8-Market line.

For reasons quite unknown to me, one rainy day, a Muni "B" type car debuted on the 14-Mission of the former MSRy. Between the deep wheel flanges of the Muni "Iron Monster" and the shallow flangeways of the battered Mission Street rail, the Muni car slid into virtually each stop enroute to Daly City.

During sewer construction work on Church Street, the Muni "J" line was split into sections. The major portion of the temporary J-line ran out Market and Valencia to 29th Street and then west to Noe. Although signed for line "J," the route duplicated that of one leg of the MSRy 9-Valencia which ended service in November, 1939. Both Muni "B" types and MSRy 900s, which by then had been assigned to Potrero barn to supplement "H" line service, were used for this run. Although I recall the Muni cars again had trouble with wheels spinning on the flangeways of the MSRy rail, it was the 900s that were withdrawn shortly after the start of service.

An amusing sidebar to the withdrawal of the 900s from the J-line Valencia and 29th Street service was that everyone anticipated that the Muni B-types would be replaced by the 900s. Railfan-motorman Lorin Silleman was out there with his camera on the first day of service, shooting every B-type in sight while ignoring the ex-MSRy 900s. Regrettably it appears that no photos of the 900s on the J-line were ever taken.

In mid-December 1944, the MSRy 8-line, Market and Castro, was the first post-merger route to fall to abandonment. However, owing to outcries from angry Eureka Valley residents, the 8 was re-established as a rush-hour only service in November of the following year. Normally MSRy 400s (former 100s) operated this service but on January 27, 1949 for six days, the 8 line was extended through Twin Peaks Tunnel to West Portal.

The West Portal extension was brought about by trolleycoach overhead construction at Market and Castro where the 8 normally switched back. The rickety ex-MSRy cars were forbidden use of the tunnel, so Muni "B" types were substituted, carrying route 8 plates in the roof box. This incarnation was all to nought, however, since the 8 was abandoned once more on July 1, 1949. Little did the Muni realize that years later, as an outgrowth of the Historic Trolley Festival, that the route would permanently reincarnate as Muniís "F" line and still later extend from the Ferry to Fishermanís Wharf.

Other strange things occurred as well. The Muni extended some of its own lines over former MSRy trackage. For example, the "F" Stockton was expanded south over Fourth Street to the S.P. Depot, formerly part of the 20-Ellis-OíFarrell. The "F" was later extended to Second and Market, replacing the MSRy 41-commuter line. Likewise the "H" Potrero was routed south over the trackage of the former MSRy 25-San Bruno line to Wilde Avenue. By this time it was common to see former MSRy cars operating on some of Muniís lettered routes.

The 25-line of MSR was noted for its lack of power on the outer end. The last feeder, I believe was at 16th Street outbound, with no further substations or feeder lines. An H (or 25) taking layover at the outer terminal could keep track of his follower just by watching the interior car lights dim and brighten. Although B-types were used in the extended H-line service, crews much preferred the 900s which with somewhat less powerful motors drew considerably less current. In addition, their faster acceleration and higher top speed made them a favorite in the heavily-traveled sections of Van Ness Avenue.

While Market Street track reconstruction was under way in March 1948, Muni created a temporary route 32, running from the Ferry out Market as far as Duboce Avenue. This was to replace the Market Street portions of lines 5, 6, 7, 21 and 31 which were then terminated at Market Street. The 32 was discontinued June 6, 1948 when the 5 and 21 were converted to motor coach. The 6 and 7 followed a month later and finally the 31 in July of 1949. In those days, a "new" streetcar route, albeit in number only, was another source of excitement for a young railfan.

Muni's short-lived 32-line was required when Market Street lines 5, 6, 7, 21 and 31 could no longer switch onto Market Street because of the 1948 rebuilding of the inside track. The "32" signs displayed in the roof box came from the depression- abandoned 32-Hayes & Oak line. Credit: Walter Rice Collection.

Dirge and procession

The 40-line, the San Mateo Interurban, was a beneficiary of MSRy management during the 1920's. The 1200 class cars assigned to the line were lengthened to 48' 1," platforms enclosed and electric heaters, cushioned leather seats, air gongs installed. In 1930 field-shunting was added. This increased their speed to the 50-mph range and reduced the schedule by five minutes, but was removed in 1933. Of course, 1200s soon sported the famous White Fronts. During the late 1930s San Mateo bound Car 1225 is leaving Lepsic Junction, just south of the cemeteries, where the 40 made connections, until December 1938, with the three-mile South San Francisco line. Often the 40 was the MSRyís most profitable line. It even made money at the time of its 1949 abandonment by Muni. Credit: San Francisco Public Library/Val Golding collection.

The 40 was a great interurban line, 20 miles long, running from Fifth and Market in San Francisco to Third and "B" Streets in San Mateo. The 1200s, husky brutes built by the LaClede Car Company of St. Louis in 1903, had GE-57 motors and high-speed 22:63 gear ratios. Their Brill 27-E1 six-foot wheelbase trucks provided a nice, comfortable ride.

In the 40ís latter days, under both MSRy and Muni management, various forms of one-man and shuttle service (south of Daly City) were tried, none of them lasting. In its final days the 40 had through service during peak periods only; at all other times it was a two-man shuttle from Daly City.

Time ran out for the 40 on January 15, 1949. Although the line was making costs, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission the previous month had decreed that the route would be abandoned. And so that late night, car 1241, piloted by a 26-year veteran, cigar-chomping, rough, gruff August Stoltz, departed Third Avenue and "B" Street in San Mateo, destination the infamous Boneyard.

Following shortly behind was a Northern California Railroad Club fantrip with car 1235 under the command of motorman Lorin Silleman and conductor Dick Biermann, both railfans of longstanding. When the 1235 pulled out from Geneva barn, two enterprising railfans loaded it with 40-line dash signs which were dropped off in the countryside. Later they drove down and retrieved the signs.

Amid much whistle-blowing and clatter-gong ringing, the 46-year old 1235 departed San Mateo for the last time at 1:30 A.M. The prescribed route for all Geneva barn lines that night called for a trip down Mission, switching at Second Street, then out Market and Eddy and over abandoned trackage on Divisadero, Oak, Stanyan, Frederick and Lincoln Way to the Boneyard at Funston Avenue.

However, railfans being railfans, as 1235 reached Second Street, instead of turning north as expected, it continued on down Mission to the ferry, thereby becoming the very last car to use that trackage. This little diversion did not sit well with the ever-present Muni inspectors on duty who pursued the wayward interurban in their patrol car, complete with flashing red lights. Meanwhile the last ever San Mateo car changed ends and headed back to Second, there to tail the funeral procession.

The sequence of the parade into Funston was as follows: 1241, the last revenue 40; 268, the next to last 14; 992, the last 14; 1228, an out of service car and last 1200 to leave Geneva; and 1235, the fantrip car which arrived just before 4:00 am. At the Boneyard, 1235 joined a long line of 1200s and a few 900s awaiting their final moments. The pyre was yet to come. For all of the railfans present, there was no jubilant playing of "Oh Didnít he Ramble" on the way home. Without further fanfare, San Franciscoís interurban era had ended.

Pranks for the memory

In retrospect, some of the activities we engaged in as kids were less than wonderful, they seem tame by comparison to todayís vandals and graffiti-writers. Nevertheless, although Iím by no means proud of our activities then, they indeed occurred, and at the time, seemed hilarious. Those events are reported here in the interest of completeness

One night I (with an accomplice?) "stole" a 6 car from the outer terminal at Ninth and Pacheco, ran it down the hill and around the corner to Judah Street and parked it, making sure to leave the brake handle in full service. Even today I wonder what the crew thought when they emerged from wherever they were to find their car missing. I suppose the next outbound car spotted the unattended 6 on Judah Street and upon seeing its crew at the end of the line, told them where their car was and gave them a ride back down.

The date is July 3, 1948, the last day of "the streetcar to the stars," the 6-Haight & Masonic. The lineís nickname was for the panorama of San Francisco scenery its Ninth Avenue and Pacheco terminal afforded. No longer would 6-cars be stolen. Muni car 462 (ex-MSRy 162) takes one its last layovers before heading to the "Boneyard" and the scrapper. Credit: Fred Matthews photo, Walter Rice Collection.

An amusing incident occurred when a friend and I talked the crew of an outbound "H" car, stopped at the newly-extended outer terminal of San Bruno and Wilde, into continuing down Bayshore Boulevard to the former end of the ex-MSRy 25-line at Arleta. The uphill return trip was the kicker, however, as poor contact on the disused rails provided a light show of trolley wheel and wheel arcs because of the poor contact, to say nothing of the added fun of wheels spinning on the rubber, oil and grime-coated rails.

Most controllers are designed so that standard reverse keys can not be removed while engaged in forward or reverse. There was no such restriction on the wrench I used, and it didnít take me long to find out that by putting the rear controller in forward and leaving it there disabled the car. There were occasions on a crowded car where I would do just that and then get off the car. What happens then is that the next time the motorman attempts to start the car two motors try to move forward while the other two attempt to move in the opposite direction. The obvious result is the car standing still with wheels spinning frantically.

Another incident, Iím told, occurred on the 7-line where it crossed the western edge of Golden Gate Park via private right-of-way. Being adjacent to the beach, there was an abundance of sand available. Sometimes San Franciscoís ocean breezes blew enough sand to partially cover the rails. Passing cars presented instant lightning shows emanating from the car wheels and the trolley wheel. We found that covering the rails thoroughly with sand over a few hundred feet forced cars to ground out entirely, there to rest until the rails were cleared sufficiently to start back up.

An alternate although somewhat dangerous method of re-establishing contact was for the conductor to hold the metal bottom of his stool between a wheel and the rail. Once contact was made, the motorman wound it up as fast as possible to avoid stalling again. The conductor, still holding his stool, was then left to jump aboard the now fast-moving rear platform.


The period of my teen years and earlier remains one of the most rewarding, in terms of railfanning, of my life. I witnessed events, operated cars and built a store of tractionianna knowledge and data not possible today. Along with other teen-aged and older friends we organized our own railfan group, ran our own charters all over the bay area and even as far away as the Sacramento Northern in Chico.

We also purchased from a wrecking company (who outbid our $50 offer) for the princely sum of $80, Muni single trucker 317, ex Presidio and Ferries Railroad 28. In those days that indeed was a large sum for anyone my age to even think of. No doubt this was one of the earliest cars bought for preservation.

Nevertheless, even the best laid plans can go awry. For many years the car lay close to the ocean, exposed to the ocean air and the elements until very little was left of it. It eventually fund its way to the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction. I donít know if restoration will ever be possible.

Throughout this narrative Iíve tried to include many of my various activities, as insignificant as they may seem, because in San Francisco that was the hey-day of public transportation. I hope Iíve achieved my goal, a reasonably balanced mix of personal recollections and historical facts. Factually, I concentrated on what I felt was of the greatest interest, places and events that couldnít be recreated except through the eyes of those who lived them.

Todayís light rail cars are just not the same, they lack the real "stench" as the late Jerry Graham was fond of saying. Itís my desire that todayís railfans can at least get a glimpse of what those marvelous traction days were like and through my words, hopefully relive them.

The author wishes to give maximum credit to the late Charlie Smallwood and his marvelous work "The White Front Cars of San Francisco" and to a somewhat lesser degree to equally exhaustive works by Anthony Perles, "The Peopleís Railway" and "Inside Muni" by John McKane and Anthony Perles. Also consulted was "Tours of Discovery," a Muni album by Anthony Perles, "PCC From Coast to Coast" by Fred W. Schneider and Stephen P. Carlson, and Walter Rice and Emiliano Echeverria "San Mateo Interurban Car -- Minimum Fare 10¢; San Franciscoís 40-line," Trolley Talk issues Nos. 248 and 249.

All of the volumes were invaluable as references, without which the author would have had to invest a great deal more time dredging up facts from a sometimes creaky, cantankerous and rusty memory. Credit is due also to my lifelong friends, the late Richard Schlaich, Robert Townley, and the late Emmanuel Mohr, all railfans who lived that great era with me, for their research, recollections and corrections.

Credit also belongs to Peter Ehrlich, a railfan-motorman on todayís "F" line, for having founded the Internet Yahoo membership group where members can exchange comments and ask or answer questions, both historical and present day. Persons interested may join by sending blank e-mail addressed to

This work would have been lacking without the contributions of the members of Peterís group. In addition, other researchers, friends and historians, far too numerous to mention, were also instrumental in the completion and accuracy of this work.

In the process of researching this article I was fortunate enough to be able to renew friendships with many old acquaintances and to form several new ones as well. To all of you, I offer my thanks.

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce or excerpt this material for any non-profit use provided credit is given to the author, Val J. Golding, as shown here.

Copyright © 2002, Val J. Golding.

Rev 4.5 -- Nov. 22, 2002

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