The Cable Car Home Page

The Cable Car Home Page

by Joe Thompson

The Cable Car Home Page

I want to use this site to share my knowledge about and interest in cable cars (also known as cable tramways). I want to keep it simple. I welcome input from any source, especially about cable cars in cities other than San Francisco. I hope to build this page up gradually as time permits. I welcome information, photographs, and suggestions.

Where Should I Go from Here? Visit the Map

The Cable Car Home Page
1996 -- The Cable Car Home Page - 20 Years -- 2016

November, 2016 will mark the 20th anniversary of this website.
I wish I had written down the date I started it.

The Cable Car Home Page

Bell Ringing Contest
Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

Byron Cobb won the 2015 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest on Thursday, 09-July-2015 at Noon in Union Square.
The 2016 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest will be held on Thursday, 07-July-2016 at Noon in Union Square.
Bell Ringing Contest

Tales From the Grip

Tales From the Grip
10 Years 2003-2013:
"Maybelle the Cable Car"

I am proud to be the host of gripman Val Lupiz's column: Tales From the Grip.

Special Update, December 2011: Maybelle the Cable Car.

Tales From the Grip

The Feel of the Rope
The Feel of the Rope
Reflections on Life at the San Francisco Cable Car Division

I can highly recommend Nick Tomizawa's dvd The Feel of the Rope: "a tribute to the men and women that carry on a San Francisco tradition that has continued for over 130 years. Through the words of employees past and present representing two generations of operators, managers, maintainers, trainers, and car builders, you will get an insider's look at what makes the cable cars the most unique transit system in the world."

Read my Review.

Read about or see some other Cable Car Videos.

The Feel of the Rope

Book Cover
Of Cables and Grips:
The Cable Cars of San Francisco
Second Edition

by Robert Callwell & Walter E. Rice, Ph.D.

The second edition of Of Cables and Grips: The Cable Cars of San Francisco -- not yet available in a print-and-paper book format -- is available on this web site.
Book Cover

Toy Cable Car

Car 504 with free-standing figures. We see two seated ladies in short skirts and a cool guy with sunglasses, who is blocking the exit from the cabin and will soon be yelled at by the conductor or the gripman or both. See more collectible items on my Cable Car Kitsch page. See toys, magazine ads, and other new items.

Table of Contents


Cliff Lift in Bournemouth Damaged by Landslide - 24-April-2016

The East Cliff Lift in Bournemouth was damaged by a serious landslide.

Isle of Man Horse Tramway Schedule Released - 18-April-2016

Douglas Bay Horse Tramway 2016 Timetable The cover of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway 2016 Timetable. (source: Isle of Man Railways)

The Isle of Man Horse Tramway is coming back for its 140th season. Download the complete timetable.

We all owe a big thanks to the Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway, which worked hard to get the line opened for this season. We all have to remain vigilant.

"Remembering The Castro Street Cable Car" - 05-April-2016


San Francisco neighborhood news site Hoodline ran an article by Shane Downing: "Remembering The Castro Street Cable Car". Shane Downing interviewed me for the article. He wrote a good story and found some excellent photos.

A Reprieve for the Isle of Man Horse Trams - 24-March-2016

A report from the Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway states that the horse tramway will operate for its 140th season in 2016. There is no guarantee as to what will happen after that.

Amber Jones, The Third Gripwoman - 23-March-2016

A press release from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced that Amber Jones is the third person to serve as a cable car gripwoman. I wish her a safe and happy career.

"SFMTA Announces Third Woman Ever to Serve as Cable Car Grip
"Amber Jones joins the Cable Car ranks

"San Francisco -- Last week, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which oversees all ground transportation in San Francisco, certified a new operator for its legendary cable car fleet making Amber Jones the third woman ever to join the ranks as a Cable Car grip.

"'Women are making history during Womenís History Month, and Iím proud of Amber Jones who began Cable Car service last week as the third woman ever to be promoted to Cable Car grip,' said Mayor Ed Lee. 'Amber is a role model for women in public service and will be an inspiration for other women looking to become Cable Car operators.'

"'It is fitting that we are able to certify the third woman ever as a Cable Car grip during Womenís History Month,' said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA Director of Transportation. 'Our Cable Car operators are ambassadors for this city and carry on a legacy that has served this city well. Ms. Jonesí certification is a tremendous accomplishment for herself, this agency and for upcoming women operators who hope to one day follow in her footsteps.'

"With her certification as a grip person last week, Jones became only the third woman in the rail lineís 143-year history to helm the iconic symbol of San Francisco transportation. This marks the first time two women will be a grip on the lines at the same time, as Jones will join Cable Carís second woman grip, Willa Johnson in service. Fannie Barnes, the first woman to serve as a Cable Car grip, retired in 2002.

"Jones has been an operator since 2008. She said: 'It's such a fun and exciting opportunity to work in a position where I get to show off such an amazing city I call home. Iím very proud and honored to be the third woman in history to drive a Cable Car in my hometown. San Francisco is such a diverse city with ample space and opportunity for goals to be reached and records to be broken for any race, gender or age and I'm happy to be a part of its history.'

"Conductors are usually based at the rear of the cable car. Grip persons are located in the front of the car and are responsible for operating the various hand and foot controls that propel and stop the 15,500 pound vehicles.

"Demanding and unforgiving, gripping a cable car requires extraordinary skills: arm, hand and upper body strength, mental and physical coordination, confidence and determination.

"Plan to join the Cable Car operators at the Bell Ringing Contest this year, scheduled for July 7, 2016."

San Francisco History Expo #6 - 06-March-2016

2016 History Expo

We went to the sixth annual San Francisco History Expo at the Old Mint. There was a very good crowd and more groups exhibiting than last year.

MSR banner Market Street Railway banner.

Market Street Railway had a nice exhibit. It was so crowded, I didn't get to talk to anyone. Across the aisle was the SFMTA Photo Archive exhibit. I complimented the docent on their nice work.

Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum display.

The Friends of the Cable Car Museum had an extensive exhibit. I got to talk Mike Phipps, Jose Godoy and Mike Holmgren. Here is a model of a model Geary Street Park and Ocean Railway grip and trailer train.

The Bernal Heights History group had a skeletal, actual-size model of an earthquake shack. The rooms with the neighborhood groups were the most crowded.

The Pacifica Historical Society was there, too.

"How Cable Cars Became An Exclusively San Francisco Treat" - 26-February-2016


San Francisco neighborhood news site Hoodline ran an article by Geri Koeppel: "How Cable Cars Became An Exclusively San Francisco Treat". Geri Koeppel interviewed me for the article. I respect the way she worked to get the facts right.

Threat to Isle of Man Horse Trams - 26-January-2016

Horse-drawn trams have operated in Douglas, Isle of Man since 1876. On 22-January-2016, the Douglas Borough Council decided that since the line was losing money, it would be immediately terminated and would not begin service in its 140th year. This short-sighted decision drew a storm of controversy from the Manx and from around the world. Many people who would have visited Man to ride the trams will not go there.

On 26-January-2016, the lower house of the Manx Parliament, the House of Keys, appointed a committee to look for alternatives that could preserve the horse-drawn trams.

I signed two online petitions.

This shows that we in San Francisco should never take our E/F lines and cable trams for granted. We have to remain eternally vigilant.

Rey Morante, RIP - 12-January-2016

Cable car conductor Rey Morante was hit by a motorcycle on 11-June-2015 near the Bay and Taylor terminal of the Powell-Mason line. Morante was in a coma until he died this day. Prayers for his friends and family.

Auto on Powell Turntable - 03-December-2015

Today San Francisco had rain for the first time in a while. People always say that San Francisco motorists forget how to drive when it rains. This morning an auto drove onto the closed part of Powell at Ellis, around a stopped cable car, and made it all the way to the turntable. The auto was followed by an SUV which didn't get as far.

So much for the new traffic restrictions.

If I had gotten all the way to the turntable, I would have used it to turn around.

Traffic Restrictions on Lower Powell Street - 13-November-2015

15 red lane Car 115 outbound on Powell between O'Farrell and Geary. Note that the northbound lane is painted red and the southbound is not. Also note the no left turn and no right turn signs at O'Farrell. November, 2015.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) launched the 18-month Powell Street Safety and Sidewalk Improvement Pilot. This pilot is changing automobile access on lower Powell Street to improve pedestrian safety and reduce wear and tear on the cables, caused by excessive stops and starts in heavy traffic.

Powell between Market and Ellis has been a pedestrian mall for many years. Now Powell between Ellis and O'Farrell has both lanes painted red, meaning that they are for transit only (Muni vehicles, taxis, vehicles with commercial plates). On Powell between O'Farrell and Geary, the northbound lane is painted red. Autos can use the southbound lane for picking up and dropping off passengers.

According to the MTA press release, "...extreme traffic congestion starting at Ellis Street may be the root of a potentially dangerous mechanical problem for the iconic streetcars. Since the year 2000, the SFMTA has documented a nearly 50 percent increase in cable stranding or breaks in the cable. This accelerated wear on the cable has serious safety implications. So the pilot program will study if the dedicated red transit lanes, for the cable cars, will lessen the cable stranding issues."

I hope the city will put some effort into enforcing the new rules.

10 red lanes Car 10 outbound on Powell between Ellis and O'Farrell. Note that both lanes are painted red. November, 2015.

New Cable Car Safety Measures - 11-Aug-2015

Do not pass sign "Do Not Pass Cable Car" sign on car 26 at Powell and Ellis. August, 2015. September, 2015 Picture of the Month.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) issued a press release calling for new efforts to keep cable car personnel safe. This year two conductors have been seriously injured by careless drivers who passed their stopped cable cars while they were trying to help passengers get on and off safely.

Do not pass and stop signs "Do Not Pass Cable Car" sign and hand held stop sign on car 5 at Powell and Ellis. August, 2015.

These measures include increased police enforcement, do not pass signs on Powell Street cable cars, hand-held stop signs for conductors, a public safety campaign and "Developing a cable car collision reduction program to identify ways to reduce collisions involving cable cars."

According to California Vehicle Code Section 21756: "The driver of a vehicle overtaking any interurban electric or streetcar stopped or about to stop for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passenger shall stop the vehicle to the rear of the nearest running board or door of such car and thereupon remain standing until all passengers have boarded the car or upon alighting have reached a place of safety..." Drivers often ignore this rule.

The SFMTA with the support of the Market Street Railway wants to ban private vehicles from Powell Street between Ellis and Geary. Powell between Market and Ellis has been closed to autos since 1973. The two organizations would like to begin and 18-month pilot in November, 2015, but he Union Square Business Improvement District is opposed to the closure and especially does not want it to start in November, right before the holiday shopping season.

Here is the press release.

California Street Outage - 16-Jul-2015

The California Street line was down on 15 and 16-July-2015 because of mechanical problems.

Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 09-Jul-2015

Byron Cobb won the 52nd annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. He also won in 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2005.

Cable Car Fare Rises - 01-Jul-2015

The single ride fare on cable cars rose from six dollars to seven. I always recommend buying a pass.

Santiago Montoya - 06-April-2015

On 06-April-2015, conductor Santiago Montoya was hit and gravely injured by an SUV on Powell between Washington and Jackson Streets. He is suffering from a broken leg, ruptured internal organs, broken ribs and a punctured lung. He is alive, but in ICU at SF General Hospital.

Transit Workers Union Local 250A has started a Gofundme page for his family:

I made a contribution.

San Francisco History Expo #5 - 01-March-2015

Waiting to get in People lined up, waiting to get in when the expo opened at 11am.

We attended the fifth annual San Francisco History Expo at the Old Mint. There was a good crowd. I didn't see the Wells Fargo exhibit.

Mike Sheridan At the Market Street Railway exhibit, I had a nice chat with rail historian Mike Sheridan, proprietor of

The Market Street Railway had a nice exhibit with lots of transit tokens.

Cable Car Museum The Friends of the Cable Car Museum exhibit.

The Friends of the Cable Car Museum had an extensive exhibit. I had a nice chat with Mike Phipps, who was going to speak about the Fillmore Hill Counterbalance. Jose Godoy gave us his custom-made buttons.

Car 16 model A beautiful model of Powell Street car 16 at the Friends exhibit.

Geary train A model of a Geary Street Park and Ocean Railway grip and trailer train at the Friends exhibit.

Sacramento-Clay A model of a post-1906 Sacramento-Clay car at the Friends exhibit.

Many of the exhibits had an emphasis on the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

I'm grateful to my wife for coming along and patiently putting up with my hobbies.

President Obama Visits San Francisco - 13-February-2015

President Barack Obama visited San Francisco on Febraury 12 and 13. He stayed at the Fairmont Hotel, a traditional spot for Democratic Presidents, so the California Street cable car line was shut down. The replacement buses and the 1 California were rerouted on Sutter Street. I saw him fly by Friday morning on his way to deliver an address on cyber security at Stanford. In the afternoon, he attended a fund raiser on Russian Hill, which shut down the Hyde Street cable car.

News Archive

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2016 Anniversaries

150 years ago - 1866
Jan 30 - Gellett Burgess, author of "The Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip", was born in Boston
Feb 08 - San Francisco's Market Street Railroad began converting to a double-track, dual-gauge layout. Its original single track had been 5'6" gauge
Jun 08 - Standard gauge steam trains began running on San Francisco's Market Street Railroad
Sep 20 - San Francisco's Market Street Railroad linked to the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad at 25th and Valencia Streets
Sep 24 - The San Francisco and San Jose Railroad extended over the Market Street Railroad's tracks to a new depot at Market and Valencia Streets

125 years ago - 1891
Jan 19 - The Broadway line of the St Louis Railroad was extended to South Broadway and Keokuk Street
Jan 21 - The Los Angeles Cable Railway/Pacific Cable Railway went bankrupt because of storm damage and competition from electric streetcars
Feb 09 - The O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line of the California Street Cable Railroad started service. It was the last new line to open in San Francisco.
Mar 19 - In Seattle, the Union Trunk Line's James Street line began service
May 23 - The Druid Hill Avenue line of the Baltimore Traction Company started service
May 30 - Kansas City's Metropolitan Street Railway extended its Wyandotte line
Jun 21 - Seattle's Madison Street Cable Railway started service
Jul 15 - The Brooklyn Heights Railroad was tested
Jul 20 - The Brooklyn Heights Railroad started service
Aug 04 - The <Tacoma Railway & Motor Company started service
Aug 25 - The Tramway Funiculaire de Belleville in Paris started service
Sep 09 - The pioneer line of the Clay Street Hill Railroad was closed for conversion into the Sacramento/Clay line.
Oct 17 - The Windsor-Saint Kilda Esplanade line of the Melbourne Tramways & Omnibus Company started service
Oct 27 - The Saint Louis and Suburban Railway, (formerly the St Louis Cable & Western Railway) discontinued cable service
Nov 03 - The Portland Cable Railway extended its Portland Heights line
Nov 02 - The Sacramento/Clay line of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway started service
Nov 12 - Valencia Street cable car 24 of the Market Street Cable Railway hits a Southern Pacific train and is wrecked
Nov 12 - The Valley City Street and Cable Railway in Grand Rapids finished its conversion from cable to electric and began removing the cable from the conduit

New York Giants record: 71-61, 3rd place. Manager: James Mutrie.

100 years ago - 1916

New York Giants record: 69-83, 8th place. Manager: John McGraw.

75 years ago - 1941
Feb 17 - Seattle's James Street cable car line was abandoned. Unlike the other Seattle cable lines, it was not replaced by buses.
Apr 05 - The Market Street Railway's Castro Street Hill line stopped service
Apr 05 - The Market Street Railway's Fillmore Hill counterbalance stopped service
Apr 14 - Seattle's Madison Street cable car line was replaced by buses.
May 08 - The Market Street Railway scrapped car 133, the last Market Street cable car which survived in original condition. The company didn't have enough space to store after it closed the Castro Street car barn
Aug 10 - Seattle's first cable car line on Yesler Way was replaced by buses.
Sep 02 - Seattle's Queen Anne Hill counterbalance, which had replaced the Front Street Cable Railway, was replaced by buses.
Sep 29 - The Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) closed on San Francisco's Treasure Island

New York Giants record: 72-80, 6th place. Manager: Bill Terry.

50 years ago - 1966
Apr 16 - Former Mayor Roger Lapham, who tried to get rid of the cable cars, died
Jul 21 - Five Powell Street cable cars crashed together when car 505 caught a loose strand in its grip inbound at Powell and Ellis
Oct 15 - San Francisco's cable cars were added to the National Register of Historic Places as entry #66000233

San Francisco Giants record: 95-67, 2nd place. Manager: Herman Franks. The Giants began a string of five straight second place finishes. They had the best record in baseball over that period, but never won a pennant.

25 years ago - 1991
Apr 10 - A parade celebrated the rebuilding of Powell Street Car 16. It was painted in Muni Blue and Gold.

San Francisco Giants record: 85-77, 3rd place. Manager: Roger Craig.

Anniversaries Archive

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What's New

What's New Archive

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Ten Years Ago

Ten Years Ago Archive

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Last updated 01-May-2016