"The Song of the Powell Street Grip"
as read by Craig Hulsebos

Car 507 Car 507 represents the look of Powell Street cable cars during the period that the "Song of the Powell Street Grip" was composed. Cars bore dark green colors with tongue-in-groove fronts. Richard Schlaich collection. January, 2007 Picture fo the Month.


by Walter Rice

The spirit and flavor of the Powell-Mason cable, Powell Street's most enduring and arguably most important cable car line, is captured in a poem entitled "The Song of the Powell Street Grip," which was originally printed in the Market Street Railway's house publication The Inside Track, March 1923. It was reprinted in San Francisco's Powell Street Cable Cars by Emiliano Echeverria and Walter Rice, Arcadia Publishing Co. October 2005.

The poem is a parody on Gelett Burgess' 1901 poem the "The Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip" that describes the California Street Cable Railroad's O'Farrell, Jones and Hyde cable. The author is unknown, but evidence suggests that it is Robert McFarland, a long time United Railroads and Market Street Railway employee.

This reading was produced by Thad McKinney and read Craig Hulsebos. We are indebted to Thad, Craig and Bob Townley who found this long lost poem, who collectively made it possible that we can all enjoy this tribute to the Powell-Mason cable car in the twenty-first century.

Listen to "The Song of the Powell Street Grip" (2.1 Megabyte file) using Windows Media Player. If you don't have Windows Media Player, you may download it for free from Microsoft. Please be prepared to wait a short time for the reading to start.

Below is the text of "The Song of the Powell Street Grip."

The Song of the Powell Street Grip

Oh, the rain is slanting sharply, and the Norther's blowing cold,
When the cable strands are loosened she is' nasty hard to hold!
There is little time for sitting down, and little chance for gab,
For the bumper guards the crossing, and you'd best be keeping tab,
All of thirty "Let-Go's" every double trip-
It takes a bit of doing on the Powell Street Grip!

Throw her off at Pine Street, let her go at Post,
Watch her well at Sutter and at Geary when you coast!
Easy at the power house, have a care at Clay,
Sacramento, Washington, Jackson - alI the way!
Drop your rope at Mason - never make a slip -
The lever keeps you busy, on the Powell Street Grip!

Foot-brake, wheel-brake, slot-brake, and gong,
'You'd better keep 'em busy or you'll soon be going wrong!
Rush her on the crossings, catch her on the rise,
Easy on the corners when the dust is in your eyes -
And the bell will always stop you if you hit her up clip; -
You're apt to be kept busy on the Powell Street Grip!
North Beach to Eddy St., over old Nob Hill,
The grades are something giddy, and the curves are fit to kill!
All the way to Market Street, climbing up the slope,
Down upon the other side, 'hanging to the rope!
But the view of San Francisco, as you take the lurching dip!
There is plenty of excitement on the Powell Street Grip!

Oh, the lights are in the Mission, and the ships are on the Bay,
And Tamalpais' looming from the Gate across the way;
The Presidio flag is waving, and the hills are growing brown,
And the driving fog is harried from the ocean to the town!
How the pulIeys slap and rattle! How the cables hum. and skip!
Oh, they sing a gallant chorus on the Powell Street Grip!

When the theatres are closing and the crowds are on the way,
The conductor's punch is clicking and the dummy's light, and gay;
But the wait above the table, near the beach is dark and still -
Just the swashing of the surges on the shore above the Mill;
And the flash from Alcatraz is gleaming. 'cross the Channel rip
As the hush of midnight falls upon the Powell Street Grip!

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Copyright 2006 by Walter Rice. All rights reserved.

Last updated 01-Jan-2006