Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

by Joe Thompson

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The annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest has two parts. The professional part is open to active gripmen and conductors. Contestants participate in a preliminary competition at the car barn to pick a field of seven finalists, who gather at Union Square, usually at Noon on the second Thursday in July, but sometimes in October. The other part is open to non profit organizations. The non profits are allowed to use props and musical accompaniment, but the Muni crewmen can only use the bell.

The current series of contests has been held since 1955, but earlier contests were held in the 1940's and 1950's. See Muni historian Bob Callwell's article The Annual Cable Car Bell-Ringing Contest - A San Francisco Tradition for a the history of the contest.


50th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 11-July-2013

sign on 62 Motorized cable car 62 sported a special sign for the 50th annual contest. Photo by Joe Thompson.

62 and trophies Motorized cable car 62 and the table of trophies. Photo by Joe Thompson.

contest banner A banner for the 50th annual contest hangs behind the judges' stand. Historic photos include Carl Payne, Al Quintana and Jennifer Williams. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Trini Whittaker's winning performance.

2012 champ Trini Whittaker won the 2013 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest at San Francisco's Union Square. Scotty Bastable of CBS Local won the amateur division for the 5th consecutive year, raising funds for AIDS research.

cheerleaders The 49ers' Gold Rush cheerleaders pose in front of car 62. Photo by Joe Thompson.

In honor of the golden anniversary, the 49ers' Gold Rush cheerleaders appeared. All the Muni guys wanted their pictures taken with them.

The Slot Blades The Slot Blades entertain the audience. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The Slot Blades, a Cable Car Division employee group, performed several songs by War, the Commodores and Santana. They sound better every time. Car 62 was parked between Powell and the column.

Emcee Deb Durst explained that ringers are judged on:

  • Rhythm
  • Originality
  • Style

Representatives from media outlets rang the bell in the amateur portion of the competition:

  • Kimmy Taylor of KBLX for the San Francisco Food Bank. She got the crowd going in a rousing chorus of "Let's Go, Giants."
  • Pilar Alvarez of El Mensajero for Arriba Juntos. She was supported by a group of young dancers.
  • Scotty Bastable of CBS Local Media, who won in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 rang for Aids Research Institute at UCSF. He and a group of actors told the story of his life backwards.

The non-profit organization results:

  • 3. Kimmy Taylor.
  • 2. Pilar Alvarez.
  • 1. Scotty Bastable.

Kimmy Taylor Kimmy Taylor ringing for the San Francisco Food Bank. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Pilar Alvarez Pilar Alvarez ringing for Arriba Juntos, with her dancers. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Scotty Bastable Scotty Bastable ringing for Aids Research Institute at UCSF. Actors help to tell the story of his life backwards, from the birth of his child to his marriage to meeting his wife. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The professional competition:

  • Jorge Lacayo - Second time contestant. His greatest thrill was participating in the San Francisco Giants' 2012 World Series Ring Ceremony
  • Ken Lunardi - 1997, 2002, and 2006 champ
  • Leonard Oats - 2007, 2008 and 2009 champion
  • Singh B Rai - Second time contestant. His greatest thrill was meeting famous Bollywood actress
  • Ignacio Sandoval - First time contestant
  • Joseph Sue - Second time contestant. He is a conductor, so he started his warmup on the conductor's bell
  • Trini Whittaker - 2012 champ. Someone called his performace a "symphony with movements"

The professional results:

  • 3. Joseph Sue
  • 2. Ken Lunardi
  • 1. Trini Whittaker, who won his second consecutive contest

Trini Whittaker Trini Whittaker with his trophy. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ken Lunardi's second place performance.

Joseph Soo's third place performance.

Carl Payne Emcee Deb Durst interviews grand champion Carl Payne. Photo by Joe Thompson.

While we waited for the results, Deb Durst introduced Al Quintana, who won the contest four times (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994). He said he attended the 1949 contest as a little kid and Carl Payne won that year. Carl Payne (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989) took the bell and buried Al in an exhibition.

Carl Payne's exhibition. I am always amazed at how much styles have changed since he was champ. As Deb Durst says, he's still got it.

Jennifer Williams, Miss Cable Car 1968, was a judge.

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49th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 06-September-2012

2012 contest sign A banner behind the judging stand of the 2012 Bell Ringing Contest. Photo by Joe Thompson.

2007, 2008 and 2009 champion Leonard Oats wound up in an unprecedented tie with third-time contestant Trini Whittaker. After a ring-off, Whittaker won the 49th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. The weather was warm and sunny. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd.

The Slot Blades, a Cable Car Division employee group, performed several songs by War and Santana. They sound better every time. Deb Durst emceed. Car 62 was parked between Powell and the column. I did not get a good position for photography and I did not have my regular cameras. I apologize for the poor selection of videos and photos.

2012 contest trophies The trophies, amateur and professional, ready to be distributed. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Deb Durst explained that ringers are judged on:

  • Rhythm
  • Originality
  • Style

Representatives from media outlets rang the bell in the amateur portion of the competition (one ringer scratched):

  • Pilar Niño, report for Telemundo for a charity whose name I can't read in my notes. She wanted her program to suggest the sounds of Colombia.
  • Mark Adkins, President of the San Francisco Chronicle, rang for the paper's Season of Sharing charity. He was accompanied by The Little Man and a cheering section.
  • Scotty Bastable of CBS Local Media, who won in 2008, 2009 and 2010 rang for the Aids Research Institute at UCSF. He did a quick change into a Santa Suit and was helped by two elves and a Sugar Plum Fairy.

Pilar Niño Pilar Niño of Telemundo rings the bell. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Mark Adkins Mark Adkins of the Chronicle rings the bell. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Scotty Bastable Scotty Bastable of CBS Local Media rings the bell, aided by a Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The non-profit organization results:

  • 3. Pilar Niño.
  • 2. Mark Adkins.
  • 1. Scotty Bastable.

There is something wrong with YouTube's embedding code, so here are links to three videos that I posted:

The professional competition (there were a lot of first time contestants this year):

  • Jorge Lacayo - First time contestant
  • Ken Lunardi - 1997, 2002, and 2006 champ. 2003, 2007, and 2008
  • Charles Mondy - First time contestant and percussionist for the Slot Blades
  • Romarr Pitcher - First time contestant
  • Singh B Rai - First time contestant
  • Trini Whittaker - Third time contestant
  • Leonard Oats - 2007, 2008 and 2009 champion

The professional results:
3. Ken Lunardi, who gave his regular smooth performance
tie 1. Leonard Oats, who was fast and precise
tie 1. Trini Whittaker, who also had great speed and precision

After the unprecedented tie, Trini Whittaker rang first in the tie-breaker, and then defending champ Leonard Oats rang the bell. The judges awarded the title to Trini Whittaker.

I predict that Romarr Pitcher will win one year.

Deb Durst and Jennifer Williams Emcee Deb Durst and judge Jennifer Williams prepare to present the third-place amateur trophy. Photo by Joe Thompson.

I was very happy to get to meet one of the judges, Jennifer Williams, Miss Cable Car 1968. Jennifer said she had a flash of deja vu. When she was Miss Cable Car, the pageant took place at Acquatic Park. The next day, the bell ringing contest took place in Union Square. I pointed out that we were standing next to the same car. That night, there was a dinner somewhere. It was wonderful to meet her after we had corresponded for some years.

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??th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - Cancelled

Due to management-labor strife, the 2011 contest was cancelled.

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48th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 28-September-2010

After being rescheduled from 17-June, the 48th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest took place, but the gripmen and conductors chose to boycott the contest because of union/management issues. Some sources assert that the union told them not to appear, while the union says it was not involved. I would not second guess the men and women of the Cable Car Division, but I think it might have been better publicity to go and use the assembled cameras and microphones to make a statement about the current state of labor relations.

They did have the non-profit part of the competition.

As I was walking to the office this morning, I saw car 62 heading up Third towards Union Square. I couldn't get the camera out quickly enough.

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47th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 09-June-2009

2007 and 2008 champion Leonard Oats won the 47th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. The weather was cloudy but not cold. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Three-time champ Leonard Oats performing at the bell ringing contest. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

The Slot Blades, a Cable Car Division employee group, performed, helped by some friends. They sound better every time. Deb Durst emceed. Like last year, car 62 was parked between Powell and the column.

Deb Durst introduced Nathaniel ford to start the festivities. He talked about how the cable car crews are great ambassadors for the city.

Ten-time champ Carl Payne giving an exhibition at the bell ringing contest. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

Deb Durst interviewed Carl Payne, 10-time champion (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989), who said the secret to winning is to stay on God's good side.

Deb Durst explained that ringers are judged on:

  • Rhythm
  • Originality
  • Style

Managers from media outlets rang the bell in the amateur portion of the competition. I don't remember hearing that they were representing charities this year. The managers were:

  • Janelle Wang of KGO-TV, who had placed second in 2008
  • Scotty Bastable of KOIT, who won in 2008
  • Aaron Jones of KBLX

Janelle Wang Janelle Wang, co-host of Channel 7's The View from the Bay, performs with the San Francisco 49ers Cheerleaders. Thank you to Janelle for providing the photo. SFMTA Photo used by permission.

The non-profit organization results:
3. Aaron Jones of KBLX for Feed the Children. He had dancers, the KBLX Steppers.
2. Janelle Wang of KGO-TV. Last year she didn't know she could have help, so she had performed solo. This year she brought the 49ers' Cheerleaders. The audience was impressed.
1. Scotty Bastable of KOIT. He said riders look so happy that it's more like a "cable bar" than a "cable car." He had dancers, the "Martini Posse."

Second place winner Frank Ware performing at the bell ringing contest. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

The professional competition:

  • Ken Lunardi - 1997, 2002, and 2006 champ. Second place, 2003, 2007, and 2008
  • Sullivan Phillips - First time contestant
  • Howard Woo - Third place 2005
  • Frank Ware. 1999 and 2004 champ. Second place, 2000 and 2005. Third place, 2001 and 2007.
  • Trini Whittaker - Second time contestant
  • Joseph Sue - First time contestant
  • Leonard Oats - 2007 and 2008 champion

Third place winner Howard Woo performing at the bell ringing contest. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

The professional results:
3. Howard Woo, who displayed speed and agility.
2. Frank Ware, who danced while he rang.
1. Leonard Oats, who also had great speed.

2009 contest sign A sign on the side of car 9 advertises the 2009 Bell Ringing Contest. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Trolley Dancers Two performers from SF Trolley Dances. Photo by Joe Thompson.

SF Trolley Dances performed while the judges figured out the winners.

I thought the contest was held in June instead of July because of the 25th anniversary of the return of the cable cars after the 1982-1984 reconstruction, but it was never mentioned at the contest.

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46th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 03-June-2008

Defending champ Leonard Oats performing at the bell ringing contest. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

2007 champion Leonard Oats, won the 46th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. The weather was mostly cloudy and rather cold, but there was still a large crowd. There was a good turnout of current and former Cable Car Division people.

Freeman and the Slot Blades, a Cable Car Division employee group, performed. They sounded great. There was a large crowd. Deb Durst emceed. Car 62 was parked between Powell and the column. The ropes were arranged so people could stand on both sides of the car -- good idea.

Deb Durst introduced Mayor Gavin Newsom to start the festivities. He talked about how the contest had started when Mayor Robinson was trying to defund the cable cars. He asked if anyone had been to "Holiday Plaza" and explained how cable cars had been invented by Andrew "Holiday". He spoke of how 7 million people a year ride the cars. He said we're running out of heroes. We don't have Barry Bonds anymore, but we still have Carl Payne "he hasn't been tested, but he appears to be clean." The mayor said we need new superstars from the current contestants, and we need more women pulling grip.

Grand champion Carl Payne spoke, saying that he was representing the man from upstairs, and he thanked everyone for their support. Payne won the contest in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Cable Car Division Superintendent Brendan Scanlan thanked everyone for making the day possible and said he hoped to join the many retirees soon.

Deb Durst explained that ringers are judged on:

  • Rhythm
  • Originality
  • Style

Managers from media outlets rang the bell for non-profit organizations. They were:

  • Aaron Jones of KBLX for Feed the Children
  • Lulu Feliciano of the Examiner for Project Open Hand
  • Janelle Wang of KGO-TV for the Asian-American Donor Program
  • Scotty Bastable of KOIT for the Aids Research Institute
  • Anne Hudson of KMEL for Friends of Faith

The non-profit organization results:
3. Janelle Wang of KGO-TV for the Asian-American Donor Program. She performed solo, but asked the drummer to give her a beat. The crowd liked her
2. Aaron Jones of KBLX for Feed the Children. He played a Run-DMC tune and had dancers.
1. Scotty Bastable of KOIT for the Aids Research Institute. He had a live rapper and dancers.

Ken Lunardi performs. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

The professional competition:

Trophy presentatioon Leonard Oats receives his trophy and his bell after the 2008 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Seen in the photo are host Deb Durst, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Nat Ford, Leonard Oats, Gilberto Godoy, and a Union Square merchant. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The professional results:
3. Byron Cobb, who again proved himself a great showman.
2. Ken Lunardi, who switched hands several times.
1. Leonard Oats, who opened with an unusual rotating move

Byron Cobb performs. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.)

I met a lady from Austria who wondered if the governor was going to be there.

2008 APTA A sign next to the Southern Pacific building welcomes the APTA 2008 Rail Conference. Photo by Joe Thompson.

I think the contest was held on a Tuesday in June instead of a Thursday in July because of the APTA (American Public Transit Association) 2008 Rail conference.

2008 contest

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45th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 12-July-2007

First-time champion Leonard Oats, won the 45th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. I was out of town, but Val Lupiz has provided a report and photos from the scene:

2007 Winners Ken Lunardi, Leonard Oats, and Frank Ware pose with their trophies after the 2007 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Val Lupiz. All rights reserved.

Beautiful weather, good turnout.

3rd Place: Frank Ware
2nd Place: Ken Lunardi
1st Place-New Champion: Leonard Oats

Leonard is a gripman, 7 years with Muni, all of it at CC Div. (one of the fortunate fellows who never had to drive a bus). Outstanding gripman, very friendly but quiet and low-key. Damn good gripman, BTW.

He has developed a two-handed ringing style similar to Ken Lunardi. Frank Ware played quite well. He did his usual shoulder swaying, spin-around-in-place dance-hands down, he was the crowd favorite.

Mayor Newson was there, Nat Ford, Carl Payne (champion in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989), most of the Division (saw about 8 or 9 recent retirees). Our new house band, Freeman And The Slotblades, played a pretty good set (they were asked to play the upcoming Bus Rodeo in August at Candlestick Park).

- Val Lupiz

Banner Banner advertising the 2007 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Val Lupiz. All rights reserved.

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44th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 13-July-2006

Winners Warren Robinson III, Byron Cobb, and Ken Lunardi pose with their trophies after the 2006 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Ten-time champion Carl Payne stands in the foreground. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ken Lunardi, 1997 and 2002 champion, won the 44th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

It was a hot, sunny day. Rico Ellis and the Cable Car Blues Band, a Muni employee group, performed. They were good, as they always are. There was a large crowd. Deb Durst emceed. Car 62 was parked between Powell and the column. The reviewing stand was on the column side, on ground level. It was hard to see the performers or the dignitaries on the reviewing stand.

Deb Durst introduced Mayor Gavin Newsom to start the festivities. He asked the people who had been to the contest before to raise their hands. He said many of the people in crowd had come to San Francisco to see and hear its unique sights and sounds, and cable car bells are a sound unique to the city. He mentioned how Carl Payne had won ten times (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989), and how last year's champ Byron Cobb, was catching up with him with five wins. The Mayor was followed by Nathaniel Ford, Municipal Transportation Agency director. He asked the crowd to applaud the cable car operators, Transport Workers of America Local 250A leaders, and the Union Square Association. Carl Payne spoke, saying that the #1 cable car fan gave us the good weather. Then he performed.

They revived the old tradition of having media celebrities ring the bell for non-profit organizations. They were:

  • Lady Ray of KMEL for the Lend-a-Hand Foundation
  • Joe McConnell of Metro Traffic Contol for the Catherine Center of South San Francisco
  • Mickael Luckoff, General Manager of KGO Radio for the Leukemia Society
  • Jan Wahl of KRON for PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support)
  • Hooman of RadioAlice for the Marin Cancer Project
  • Freestyle Franco of KMKY for Bay Area Stars

The non-profit organization results:
3. Freestyle Franco of KMKY for Bay Area Stars. He blew a whistle and had the crowd clap
2. Hooman of RadioAlice for the Marin Cancer Project. He gave a nice pitch for his charity
1. Jan Wahl of KRON for PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). She tried to get the crowd to sing "San Francisco"

Byron Cobb Five-time champion Byron Cobb performs. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The professional competition:

  • Byron Cobb - 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2005 champ. Second place, 2002. Third place 2004.
  • Walter L Scott III - Second place in 1997 and third in 2003
  • Leonard Oates - 2002 and 2003 finalist
  • Howard Woo - Third place 2005
  • Warren Robinson III - First time contestant and the only conductor among the finalists
  • Kevin Davis - He was announced, but not present
  • Ken Lunardi - 1997 and 2002 champ. Second place, 2003. Deb Durst said this was his 17th time in the competition.

The professional results:
3. Warren Robinson III, who gave a sharp performance and showed a good personality
2. Byron Cobb, who displayed his usual showmanship. Deb Durst asked if second place was a surpise. He said "Just finish in the money, baby."
1. Ken Lunardi, who gave a varied performance. Receiving his trophy, he said "it's been a long haul."

The people in the crowd enjoyed themselves. I stood behind a family of tourists who had the contestants autograph their guidebook.

post card Promotional postcard for the 2006 Bell Rining Contest. Photo by Joe Thompson.

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43rd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest- 14-July-2005

Byron Cobb won the 43rd annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. He also won in 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001. This puts him in second place, after ten time winner Carl Payne, for the number of wins. He also finished second in 2002 and third in 2004.

The non-profit organization results:
3. Black Infant Health Improvement Project
2. Youth with a Mission
1. Chinatown Community Development Center

The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
3. Howard Woo. First time finalist.
2. Frank Ware. 1999 and 2004 champ. Second place, 2000. Third place, 2001.
1. Byron Cobb. 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001 champ. Second place, 2002. Third place 2004.

Other professional finalists: Walter Scott III, Second place in 1997 and third in 2003. Leonard Oates, 2002 and 2003 finalist. Jimmy Chau, 2002 and 2004 finalist. Patrick "Doc" Ledbetter, Third place in 2000.

I got stuck at work. Thanks to Bob Callwell of Muni for the results.

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42nd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest- 08-July-2004

Trophies Trophies on display before the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Frank Ware, 1999 champion, won the 42nd annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

The sun broke through the fog just before the contest started, and it got pleasantly warm. Rico Ellis and the Cable Car Blues Band, a Muni employee group performed. They had a more jazz-influenced sound this year than last year; I enjoyed the music. Deb Durst emceed. Car 62 was parked just to the left of the stage this year; it was easier to see the performers from the crowd than it was last year. The bell on the car was well miked; there was no distortion this time.

Car 62 Car 62 before the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The non-profit organization results:
3. SFPD - PAL (Police Athletic League - Two kids rang)
2. California Autism Foundation (they sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame")
1. Brown Bombers (accompanied by the band)

The First Tee and Samaritan House also performed. Walden House was scheduled, but did not appear.

The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
3. Byron Cobb. 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001 champ. Second place, 2002. 21 years with Muni, 14 on the cables. His usual display of personality.
2. Walter L Scott III. Second place in 1997 and third in 2003. 27 years with Muni, 25 on the cables. He played with both hands and showed a lot of variety.
1. Frank Ware. 1999 champ. Second place, 2000. Third place, 2001. He danced while ringing. The crowd got very involved.

The First place winner received $1,000 and a cable car bell from the Friends of the Cable Car Museum. Gilberto Godoy, who handcrafted the bell for the Friends at his United Brass Foundry, explained the process of making it and finishing it. The other major prizes were $750 for Second place and $500 for Third. Winners also received coupons for hotel stays, restaurant meals, and one month from Golden Gate Scavengers (?!).

Gordon Miller Gordon Miller in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Kenneth Foster Kenneth Foster in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Doc Ledbetter Patrick G "Doc" Ledbetter Sr. in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Frank Ware Frank Ware, eventual champ, in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Walter L Scott III Walter L Scott III, eventual second place winner, in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Jimmy Chau Jimmy Chau, in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Byron Cobb Byron Cobb, eventual third place winner and four-time champion, in the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Other professional finalists: Gordon Miller, 2001 finalist. Kenneth Foster, first time finalist. 8 years with Muni, 6 on the cables. Patrick G "Doc" Ledbetter Sr. Third place in 2000. 19 years with Muni, 14 on the cables. Jimmy Chau, 2002 finalist. 3 1/2 year with Muni, 3 on the cables.

Four time champion Al Quintana, ten time champion Carl Payne, and two time champion Ken Lundardi gave brief exhibitions while the judges reached a decision. Carl Payne thanked everyone for coming and thanked the crews for selling San Francisco. Then all the finalists participated in a humorous "jam session". After presenting the second and third place awards, Deb Durst had to stall while waiting for Mayor Gavin Newsome to show up. She invited someone from the crowd to ring the bell. The Mayor presented the bell to Frank Ware.

Jam Session The jam session after the 2004 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Note: Last year was the 40th annual contest. This year is the 42nd. What happened? Robert Callwell, Muni historian discovered that we have been counting them wrong for some time.

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2003 Cable Car Bell Ringing Invitational- 12-December-2003

A one-time special event, the 2003 Cable Car Bell Ringing Invitational, was held in the Cable Car Barn on 12-Dec-2003 after the annual luncheon for senior citizens. The special event was conceived and organized by Nick Tomizawa, who is working on a documentary about the Cable Car Divsion, and Division Superintendent, Brendan Scanlan. The All Stars included every bell ringing contest champion since 1967. The winners:

  • 1st Place-Carl Payne
  • 2nd Place Al Quintana
  • 3rd Place-Peter Palukevich

The complete roster:
1. Ron East (2003)
2. Frank Ware (1999)
3. Famous Limbrick (1991)
4. Mike McClure (1979)
5. Dennis McCoy (1975)
6. Steve Dickson (1971)
7. Ken Lunardi (1997, 2002)
8. Pete Pavlukevich (1970, 1993)
9. Tom O'Brien (1992, 1996)
10. Joe Nobles (1968, 1972)
11. Al Davison (1967, 1973, 1974)
12. Byron Cobb (1995, 1998, 2000, 2001)
13. Al Quintana (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994)
14. Carl Payne (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989)

Thanks to Nick Tomizawa for providing this information. He says it won't be an annual event, but I hope it will happen again some day.

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41st Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest- 16-October-2003

Ronald East Ronald East, champion of the 2003 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest with co-host Deb Durst. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ronald East, a first time champion, won the 41st annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. It has been a while since we have had a first time champ.

Cable Car Blues Band Lloyd Gregory and the Cable Car Blues Band, a Muni employee group, perform at the 2003 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The weather was uncomfortably warm. Lloyd Gregory and the Cable Car Blues Band, a Muni employee group performed. They were good. Deb and Will Durst co-emceed. Car 62 was parked in a different position than last year; it was difficult to see the performers from the crowd. I thought the bell on the car was overmiked; there was distortion when the ringers make long sequences.

The non-profit organization results:
3. Huckleberry House (brief and to the point)
tie for First: Cameron House (rhythmic) and Operation Dream (fast bell work)

There were no big production numbers this year. Samaritan House also participated, bringing in Al Quintana, four time champ, as a ringer ;0) The Brown Bombers were scheduled to appear, but did not make it.

Al Quintana Al Quintana, four time champion, performs as a "ringer" at the 2003 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
3. Walter L Scott III. Second place in 1997. 26 years with Muni, 24 on the cables.
2. Ken Lunardi. 1997 and 2002 champ. 23 1/2 years with Muni, 18 1/2 on the cables. Deb Durst commented on his vest full of pins. Ken is the third generation of his family to work for Muni.
1. Ronald East. Third time performer, Third place in 2002. 3 years with Muni, 3 on the cables.

The First place winner received $1,000 and a cable car bell valued at over $1,000 from the Friends of the Cable Car Museum. Gilberto Godoy who presented the bell handcrafted the bell for the Friends at his United Brass Foundry. The other major prizes were $750 for Second place and $500 for Third.

Other professional finalists: Leonard Oates. Second time performer. 4 years with Muni, 3 on the cables. Patrick G "Doc" Ledbetter Sr. Third place in 2000. 19 years with Muni, 12 on the cables. Tommy Strickland. First time performer. 3 years with Muni, 3 on the cables. Charles Jones. First time performer. 2 years with Muni, 1 1/2 on the cables.

Ten time champion Carl Payne spoke and gave a brief exhibition while the judges reached a decision. He thanked the participants for carrying on a 40 year tradition.

Police Chief Alex Fagan presented the awards.

The Friends of the Cable Museum provided buttons with a nice logo by Jose Godoy. The logo also appeared on shirts worn by several of the people in the crowd.

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40th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest- 17-October-2002

2002 contest view Motorized car 62 (former Cal Cable Jones Street shuttle car 61) at the 2002 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest in Union Square. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ken Lunardi, 1997 champion, won the 40th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

I was able to attend this year. The weather, was cold and partly sunny. The cover band Pride and Joy performed. Deb Durst emceed. Mayor Willie L Brown, Jr made a surprise appearance.

The non-profit organization results:
3. Friends of the Children (a first grader rang the bell)
2. California Academy of Sciences (with rapping)
1. West Bay Filipino Multi Service Center (the Bessie Carmichael School dance troop performed)

The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
3. Ronald East. Second time performer. 2 years with Muni, 2 on the cables.
2. Byron Cobb. 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001 champ. 17 years with Muni, 13 on the cables.
1. Ken Lunardi. 1997 champ. 22 years with Muni, 18 on the cables. Ken is a third generation Muni man.

The first place winner received $1,000 and a bell from the Godoy foundry.

Other professional finalists: Frank Ware. 1999 champ. 27 years with Muni, 9 years on the cables. Walter Scott III. 2nd place, 1997. 25 years with Muni, 23 on the cables. Jimmy Chau. First time performer. 2 years with Muni, 1 1/2 on the cables. Leonard Oates. First time performer. 3 years with Muni, 2 on the cables.

Three past champions gave exhibitions: Tom O'Brian (2 time champ), Carl Payne (10 times), and Al Quintana (4 times).

2002 contest logo Logo of the 2002 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest.

Ken Lunardi Ken Lunardi, giving his winning performance at the 2002 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest. Photo by Joe Thompson.

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39th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 19-July-2001


Union Square was being renovated, so the 39th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest was held at Fisherman's Wharf. Byron Cobb,
1995, 1998, and 2000 champion won again.
    The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
  • 3. Frank Ware. 1999 champ.
  • 2. Ken Lunardi. 1997 champ.
  • 1. Byron Cobb. 1995, 1998, and 2000 champ.

I got stuck at work.

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38th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 20-July-2000


Byron Cobb,
1995 and 1998 champion, won the 38th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

I was able to attend this year. The weather, as usual, was bright and sunny. Carl Payne, 10 time winner, said that is because "God loves cable cars".

    The non-profit organization results:
  • 3. Christmas in April
  • 2. SLUG (SF League of Urban Gardeners)
  • 1. Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.
    The professional (cable car gripman or conductor) results:
  • 3. Patrick G "Doc" Ledbetter Jr. He gave a very rhythmic performance. Receiving his trophy, he said "It's about time".
  • 2. Frank Ware. 1999 champ. He was very enthusiastic and did a 360 degree spin during his performance. He said "Maybe Third next year".
  • 1. Byron Cobb. 1995 and 1998 champ. He gave a powerful performance that had the crowd clapping along. He promised certain people along California Street that "I won't ring the bell so much now".

Several past champions gave exhibitions, including Payne, Al Davison (3 times), and Al Quintana (4 times).

Doctor Walter Rice, Chairman of the Friends of the Cable Car Museum, rededicated the plaque at Hallidie Plaza in honor of the 100th anniversary of Hallidie's death. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to meet him.

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37th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 15-July-1999


Frank Ware, a first time contestant, won the 37th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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36th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 17-July-1998


Byron Cobb,
1995 champion, won the 36th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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35th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-July-1997


Ken Lunardi won the 35th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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34th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-July-1996


Tom O'Brien,
1992 champion, won the 34th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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33rd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-July-1995


Byron Cobb won the 33rd annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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32nd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 21-July-1994

Al Quintana,
1982, 1986, and 1990 champion, won the 32nd annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

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31st Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 22-July-1993

Peter Pavlukevich,
1970 champion, won the 31st annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco, defeating Al Davison, 1967, 1973, and 1974 champion, who took second, and Ken Lunardi, who took third. In the nonprofit divsion, Jim Patrick won for the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club. Orlando Cepeda, retired Giants great, won second for the Hamilton Family Center second prize. Merle Saunders, jazz musician, won third for Suicide Prevention.

Grand champion Carl Payne (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989) gave an exhibition.

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30th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 23-July-1992


Tom O'Brien won the 30th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco, defeating Al Quintana,
1982, 1986, and 1990 champion, who took second, and Famous Limbrick, 1991 champion, who took third. According to the Associated Press, O'Brien credited his golf game for his success: "You stand still, keep your head still and concentrate on what you are doing..." He received a $1,000 prize.

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29th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 19-June-1991


First time contestant Famous Limbrick, Jr won the 29th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco, defeating Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989 champion, who took second, and Al Quintana, 1982, 1986, and 1990 champion, who took third. Disk jockey Bill Wong won the celebrity division for On Lok.

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28th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 21-July-1990

Al Quintana,
1982 and 1986 champion, won the 28th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco.

27th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 22-June-1989


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988 champion, won the 27th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, This was his tenth victory. Al Quintana, 1982 and 1986 champion, took second place. Disk jockey Bill Wong won the celebrity division for Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.

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26th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 15-June-1988


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987 champion, won the 26th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. David Fillipone won the nonprofit division for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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25th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 17-June-1987


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, and 1985 champion, won the 25th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. Thomas O'Brien, who took second in 1985, took second place again, and Alvertis (Al) Davison, 1967, 1973, and 1974 champion, took third. Pete Pavlukevich, 1970 champion, also competed.

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24th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 17-June-1986


Al Quintana,
1982 champion, won the 24th annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square, Geary & Powell Streets, San Francisco. He defeated Carl Payne for the first time after several tries. Stephen Kloster, an 11-year-old cable car enthusiast, warmed up the bell for Quintana. Carl Payne, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, and 1985 champion, took second place and Michael McClure, 1979 champion, third. Disk jockey Bill Wong won the celebrity division.

23rd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 20-June-1985


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, and 1984 champion, won the 23rd annual Bell Ringing Contest. Thomas O'Brien took second. Both complained about a stiff bell-pull and a poor bell. The contest this year was part of an eight day Cable Car Festival.

22nd Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 19-June-1984


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1983 champion, won the 22nd annual Bell Ringing Contest. He played "No Parking on the Dance Floor," a disco tune. Associated Press quoted Payne as saying "Some people have said I'm the Michael Jackson of the cable cars."

21st Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 19-July-1983


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981 champion, won the 21st annual Bell Ringing Contest. He received $1,000 and a trophy. Mike McClure, 1979 champion, took second and Al Quintana, 1982 champ took third. The cable car system was down for rebuilding.

20th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 15-July-1982


Al Quintana won the 20th annual Bell Ringing Contest.

19th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 21-July-1981


Carl Payne,
1977, 1978 and 1980 champion, won the 19th annual Bell Ringing Contest. He received a bell and $1,000.

18th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-????-1980


Carl Payne,
1977 and 1978 champion, won the 18th annual Bell Ringing Contest. Sister Carol Anne O’Malley won the non-profit event.

17th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-????-1979


Mike McClure won the 17th annual Bell Ringing Contest. Sister Carol Anne O'Marie paced second in the amateur division. Sister Carol, who belonged to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, ran a shelter for homeless women in Oakland and wrote mystery novels.

16th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-June-1978


Carl Payne,
1977 champion, won the 16th annual Bell Ringing Contest. Mimi Gina and her Men performed jazz. Payne did an encore with them, playing "Sweet Georgia Brown." The Associated Press quoted Payne: "One day I just started doing a little something extra with the bell, and soon I got good at it. The passengers like it, I like it."

15th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-????-1977


Carl Payne won the 15th annual Bell Ringing Contest. He went on to win it many more times.

1973 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 04-June-1973


Al Davison won the annual Bell Ringing Contest.

1971 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 09-June-1971


Stephen J Dickson won the annual Bell Ringing Contest.

1970 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 01-July-1970


Pete Pavlukevich won the 8th annual Bell Ringing Contest. According to Associated Press, "Pavlukevich won a new suit, a radio, a painting and a trophy..." Bandleader Bobby Garay won the amateur division over Joseph Sanai, who was a percussionist with the San Francisco Symphony.

1968 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 22-August-1968


Joe Nobles won the 6th annual Bell Ringing Contest. Jennifer de Grassi was
Miss Cable Car 1968.

1967 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 11-July-1967


Alvertis (Al) Davison won the 6th annual Bell Ringing Contest.

1958 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 05-July-1958


Albert E Ward,
1957 champ and an ex-Army drummer, won the annual Bell Ringing Contest at Union Square. He played a variation on "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits."

1957 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - ??-July-1957


Albert E Ward, an ex-Army drummer, won the annual Bell Ringing Contest.

1956 Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest - 21-April-1956


San Francisco held the contest in April as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the
1906 Earthquake and Fire. I do not know who won.

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The Annual Cable Car Bell-Ringing Contest - A San Francisco Tradition

by Robert Callwell

Thanks to Muni historian Bob Callwell, the man who determined that we had been calling the contests by the wrong number for many years, for allowing me to post this article. All rights are reserved by the San Francisco Municipal Railway. - Joe Thompson

The first of the annual bell-ringing contests, as we know them today, was held at Union Square in April 1955. Although the bell-ringing contests are now a San Francisco tradition, the first annual contest did not begin in auspicious circumstances. It took place as part of a Cable Car Festival to promote the cable cars as a visitor attraction. The festival was sponsored by the city's administration under Mayor Elmer Robinson, which had obtained the votes in the June and November 1954 elections to authorize cutbacks in cable car service. The Cable Car Festival was held to fulfill a promise in the June 1954 election campaign to put on an annual festival for the cars, but the idea to include a bell-ringing contest in the festival may well have come from a event held at Union Square in 1949.

There was a railroad fair in Chicago in the summers of 1948 and 1949, and a bell-ringing contest was held at Union Square in May 1949 to select three gripmen to operate Powell car No. 524 on a short section of track at the 1949 fair, under the sponsorship of the Western Pacific Railroad. Three gripmen from the privately owned California Street Cable Railroad (Cal Cable) and three Muni gripmen competed in the contest. Cal Cable's Alexander Nielsen won the contest, and two Muni gripmen were named to go with him to Chicago.

Alexander Nielsen From the 08-Jun-1949 San Francisco Call-Bulletin: "Alexander Nielsen, winner of the Call-Bulletin memo from the cable car bell ringing contest, tests model cable car which leaves today for Chicago Railroad Fair parade. Admirer is Shirley Bodley. Model was produced by men of California Street Cable Railroad. The bell, of course, is regulation type" (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8062).

The bell-ringing contests that began in 1955 continued throughout the remainder of the 1950s. There were no contests for a few years in the 1960s and 1970s, but they have been held every year since 1977. Although almost all of the contests have been held at Union Square, one was held on the Marina Green, on the 4th of July in 1959, and one was held at Fisherman's Wharf, in July 2001, because Union Square was undergoing renovation.

For many years, there has either been a celebrity bell-ringing contest or a contest for non-profit organizations, as well as the contest for the cable car crew members. For a few years, there was also a Miss Cable Car contest, although it must be said that being in a swimsuit on a cool and foggy San Francisco day couldn't have been all that much fun for the contestants. It should also be noted that the motorized cable car that is used for the Union Square contest is an authentic cable car. Car No. 62 was operated on the Jones Street Shuttle, which ran on Jones between O'Farrell and Market until February 1954.

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

Every year, former bell-ringing champions who are retired from Muni service are invited to the contest. Former gripmen such as Al Davison, Tom O'Brien, Carl Payne, and Al Quintana are introduced to the crowd and are often asked to show off their bell-ringing skills. Al Davison once rang a bell with Arthur Fiedler and the San Francisco Symphony in the playing of Josef Strauss's "Firebell Polka." And Carl Payne's bell ringing is truly legendary - before he left Muni to become an officer in the San Francisco Police Department, he won the championship 10 times. The cable car crew members who have won first place in the contest more than once are as follows:

Carl Payne - 10 times (1977-78, 1980-81, 1983-85, 1987-89)
Byron Cobb - 4 times (1995, 1998, 2000-01)
Al Quintana - 4 times (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994)
Al Davison - 3 times (1967, 1973-74)
Albert Ward - 3 times (1957-59)
Ken Lunardi - 2 times (1997, 2002)
Joseph Nobles - 2 times (1968, 1972)
Tom O'Brien - 2 times (1992, 1996)
Pete Pavlukevich - 2 times (1970, 1993)
Frank Ware - 2 times (1999, 2004)

The 42nd annual contest was held on July 8, 2004, at Union Square. As noted above, Frank Ware won first place. Walter Scott, III, came in second, and Byron Cobb took third place. The winners in the division for non-profit organizations were Brown Bombers (first place), California Autism Foundation (second place), and the San Francisco Police Department's Police Athletic League (third place).

S.F. Municipal Railway Community & Public Relations Dept. July 12, 2004

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