by Joe Thompson
line: California Street
opened: 10-Apr-1878. California Street from Kearney to Fillmore.
extended: 30-May-1879. California Street from Fillmore to Central (now Presidio) Avenue.
extended: 1890. California Street from Kearney to Drumm (Market)
cut back: 16-May-1954. To Van Ness Avenue
powerhouse: California & Larkin.
powerhouse: California & Hyde. Replaced old powerhouse in 1891. California Street cars were stored in the lower level. O/J/H & Jones Street Shuttle cars were stored in the upper level.
grip: Root single jaw side grip, lever-operated
grip: Converted to Eppelsheimer bottom grip, lever-operated, in 1957
cars: double-ended dummy & trailer trains.
cars: double-ended single unit cars replaced trains about 1890. These were the original "California cars", with a central closed section and open ends.
turntables: cross overs.
opened: 09-Feb-1891. O'Farrell Street from Market to Jones, Jones from O'Farrell to Pine. Pine from Jones to Hyde, Hyde from Pine to Beach.
powerhouse: California & Hyde.
grip: Eppelsheimer bottom grip, lever-operated
cars: double-ended "California cars".
turntables: cross overs.
line: Jones Street Shuttle
opened: 09-Feb-1891. Jones from Market to O'Farrell
powerhouse: California & Hyde.
grip: Eppelsheimer bottom grip. Before 1906: wheel-operated. After 1906: lever-operated
cars: Before 1906: Single truck former trailers with grip under center of car. After 1906: small double-ended "California cars".
turntables: cross overs.
notes: The main line was the third cable car line built in San Francisco. It was promoted by Leland Stanford, one of the Central Pacific's Big Four. It passed the homes of all the Big Four (Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and C.P. Huntington) on Nob Hill.
The line was designed by Henry Root. His single-jaw side grip was the most influential in the industry. Read about his experiences with Cal Cable and other companies in the cable traction industry in exceprts from his memoir: Henry Root, Personal History and Reminiscences with Personal Opinions on Contemporary Events 1845-1921
The line connected downtown with Chinatown, the mansions of Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, the Western Addition, and the edge of the Richmond District. It was one of the busiest and most financially successful lines in the city.
Read about the Cal Cable's connecting steam dummy service in "When Steam Ran on The Streets of San Francisco, Part III," by Walter Rice and Emiliano Echeverria.
The company started service with standard grip and trailer trains. In 1891, it switched to a revolutionary new type of car with an enclosed center section and open "skeleton" sections on each end. This type came to be called the "California car" because of its success on the California Street line. It was used widely in the transit industry, in cities where a temperate climate made the open sections practical.
The company's lines were severely damaged by the 1906 earthquake and fire. The hills it covered were too steep to permit replacement by electric traction. Here is a San Francisco Chronicle article about the damage and the rebuilding:
Cal Cable was the last independent public transit company in San Francisco; it began
running into financial difficulties after the Second World War.
One source of trouble was a steep jump in labor costs.
I have collected two newspaper
articles about a 26 day strike in 1949:
In 1950, the Broadway Tunnel Construction Project caused the outer portion of the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line to be temporarily replaced by Ford buses. This damaged the company's finances.
The company ceased operating on 31-Jul-1951 when its insurance coverage lapsed. Beset by lawsuits, management filed for bankruptcy on 13-Aug-1951. The company sold its assets to the City of San Francisco on 20-Sep-1951. The San Francisco Municipal Railway reopened the lines on 13-Jan-1952. In 1957, Muni converted the main line to use the same technology as the surviving FCH lines and truncated it to Van Ness. Cable and cars now run out of Washington/Mason. The California/Hyde barn and powerhouse was demolished on 11-Nov-1957.
Muni refers to the line as the 61-California.
The crossing at Powell and California is controlled by a manned signal tower. Read Emiliano J Echeverria's article about the tower.
The O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line used a bottom grip because it was the last cable car line built in San Francisco and was inferior to everything. It had to drop rope 22 times (9 crossings, powerhouse, end of line) on a round trip. This is described in Gelett Burgess' poem "The Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip".
On 04-Jan-1954, the Public Utilities Commission recommended dropping all cable service except Powell-Mason, and a California-Hyde line. Before the next week's public meeting, the PUC met in private and decided to abandon the whole Cal Cable system, except for the main line east of Van Ness. During the public meeting, which was crowded with cable advocates, including Mrs Friedel Klussmann, the PUC voted to adopt the already agreed upon plan. She attacked the plan and tried to fight it in court. On 25-Jan-1954, the Board of Supervisors approved the plan.
Read Walter Rice and Emiliano Echevarria's article Cal Cable's Hyde and California Street Car Barn and Powerhouse.
Read 60 years of Cal Cable Memories by Raphael Long.
In late January, Muni announced a plan to abandon much of the Cal Cable system.
I have collected some contemporary newspaper articles on the whole process:
On 01-Feb-1954, the PUC voted to approve Muni's plan to abandon much of the Cal Cable system. I have collected
some contemporary newspaper articles:
On 16-May-1954, Muni abandoned the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line and cut the main line
back to Van Ness Avenue:
Later in 1954, Proposition E was placed on the ballot by the "Citizens' Committee for Transit Progress",
an anti-cable car group to include a revised cable car system in the city charter.
This system would restore the outer end of the Hyde Street line, but
abandon the rest. Proposition E passed narrowly.
Muni combined the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line with the Muni's (originally Ferries and Cliff House) Washington/Jackson line to produce the current Powell/Hyde line in 1957.
There have been proposals to extend the inner terminal of the California Street line to the Ferry.
There have also been proposals to run cars on California Street from Drumm to Hyde, and then on Hyde to Beach, over part of the old O/J/H line that is not used except by California Street cars returning to the car barn.
Gridley Realty purchased cars 1, 7, 12, 52, and 60 and mounted them on truck chassis, along with Sacramento/Clay cars 18 and 25. The cars are still available for charter.
Car 10 was on display at the children's playground in the San Francisco Zoo. It was scrapped in 1985.
In 2014, I received an email from Eric Minoff of Bonhams, the auction house. He was researching an item from The Auction of the Estate of Dr Ralph W.E. Cox Jr, which will be held on 10-May-2014. Among the Ford Models AC, S and T Torpedo, the Silsby Steam Pumper, the Fifth Avenue Coach Company 1925 Yellow Coach Open-Top Double-Decker Bus, the 1925 American La France City Service Ladder Fire Truck and an "1890 Brill Street Car" was former California Street Cable Railroad car 11. Cal Cable 11 sold for $87,500. I hope it has found a good home.
Car 13 was sold to the Shriners in the 1950's. It somehow wound up in Georgia in 2001, for sale by D. F. Barnhardt & Associates.
Car 14 was on display at the children's playground in Golden Gate Park. It was removed and scrapped at some point.
Car 17 is preserved at the Poway Midland Railroad in Poway, California. The car had once run under battery power at Knott's Berry Farm. Six former Cal Cable cars (6, 17, 20, 43, 49, and 59) ran at Knott's Berry Farm from 1955 to 1979. The car still has its motors and may be operated after restoration. Their recently-revised web site has data and a photo. See the How Do Cable Cars Work? page for photos of 17 after a 1926 wreck.
Car 23 was preserved at the California Trolley and Railroad Corporation, awaiting restoration. In December 2005, they put it up for sale. I do not know the result.
Car 42 was sold the car to the operator of a cattle feedlot in central California, who mounted it on a motorized trucks and operated it on a private rail line. In 1993, the Market Street Railway began cosemetically restoring the car. In 2005, Muni shop people began restoring the car to operating condition. On 25-May-2005, during a test, 42 ran on the California Street line for the first time in its life. Initial reports are that it worked well. Car 42 does not have doors in its ends for removing the grips, which makes it more complicated for the shopmen to service. On 03-Jun-2005, the car carried mayors from around the world for United Nations' World Environment Day.
Car 42 sat in the barn until 2012, when it operated on two Sundays to help celebrate the 100th birthday of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. This was the first time the car had carried the general public since its return to the city.
Car 43 is preserved at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California. The car had once run under battery power at Knott's Berry Farm. Six former Cal Cable cars (6, 17, 20, 43, 49, and 59) ran at Knott's Berry Farm from 1955 to 1979. The car is demotored and is in need of restoration.
Car 44 was purchased by steel man Earle M Jorgensen, who had ridden Cal Cable regularly as a boy. He later sold the car to Western Airlines, which motorized it and used it as a "Rolling Ambassador of Good Will" on a 100,000 mile tour of the Western US and Mexico. It was later at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, UT. It is presently at the S&S Shortline Railroad in Farmington, Utah, which hopes to restore it and put it on battery-powered trucks.
According to Inside Muni by McKane and Perles, car 45 went to "Marelco Ranch, in Oregon". In 2003, the car went up for sale on EBay. It had been in Snowmass Village, Colorado since 1989, serving as a fast food stand.
Car 46 was purchased by Steve Pease, the co-owner of Steve's Gay '90s, a restaurant in Tacoma to use in promotions. The restaurant closed in 1977. The car is currently operated by San Franciso's Cable Car Charters.
Car 48 (Holman, 1907) is preserved at The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, along with Dunedin, New Zealand cable car 105.
Old car 59 (Hammond, 1907. Originally Cal Cable number 7) has been displayed in a park in New Orleans.
We learned at the beginning of 2018 that car 59 from Knott's Berry Farm was returned to Muni and is now in Auburn, California.
Car 61 was renumbered as second 62 in 1954. Muni motorized 62 and still uses it for promotional purposes. It appears every year at the bell ringing contest.
In October, 2003, the Portland Oregonian reported that a former Cal Cable car was being prepared to promote the Cheerful Tortoise Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The motorized car, mounted on a truck chassis, had been in Arizona for several years. Mark Kavanagh (of the excellent Kavanagh Transit Systems saw the car and took pictures which proved that it is not a cable but a modern, motorized imitation.
On 10-April-2003, there was a party to celebrate the California Street Cable Railroad's 125th Birthday Party.
In May, 2017, I received an email from Kim Wahler. She was clearning a field north of San Francisco and found the object in the photo above. She asked if I could tell her anything about it. I ran it by some San Francisco transit history experts and got some comments. This dash does not have visible slats, like the dash of restored car 42. Emiliano Echevarria says that Cal Cable covered the slats in the 1930s. The dash does not the door visible on current Cal Cable cars. Emiliano points out that Muni installed the doors in 1957. Gripman Tony Marquardt says it is most likely one of the Cal Cable cars that got sold to Knott's Berry Farm, where they operated under battery power to take people from the parking lots to the gate. He said number 6 was falling apart in a field near Healdsburg last time he saw it. It could also be car 20, which he saw stored in Pier 20 with a sticker covering the original lettering. You can see traces of it in the photo. Tony says two Knott's cars that are unaccounted for are 49 and 50, which are not the same 49 and 50 running now on California Street.
Muni shut down the California Street cable line from 22-September-2017 to 29-September-2017 to replace the gearbox that drives the California Street cable. The old gearbox dated from the 1982-1984 Great Reconstruction.
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Last updated 01-May-2022