Market Street Railway Company, Past, Present and Future
Introduction by Walter Rice

The San Francisco News Letter published this article in September 1925, two months before the November acquisition of the Market Street Railway by The Standard Power and Light Corporation. The company's management was assumed by the Byllesby Engineering and Management Corporation. In March 1925, Mason B. Starring became the Market Street Railway's President. Unlike his predecessors, Starring began a policy of public relations that Byllesby embraced. The company’s policy was to undertake any scheme to achieve a favorable image. Franchises, many due to expire in 1929, were at stake. Billboards, radio and press releases were part of Starring's and Byllesby’s tools. In fact this article appears to be based on materials written by the Market Street Railway Public Relations department. The lack of any discussion about the Municipal Railway supports this conclusion.

This current operating version of the Market Street Railway had taken over the operating assets at foreclosure proceedings of the despised United Railroads of San Francisco (URR), April 1, 1921. On March 20, 1902, the then Market Street Railway merged with the Sutter Street Railway and two electric lines to create the URR. Although the Market Street Railway had ceased as an operating transit company, it nevertheless continued as a corporate entity, holding much of the debt (bonds)on behalf of its stockholders that the new URR had assumed.

The size of this debt was much greater than what was warranted, given the size of the URR’s infrastructure. Various processor companies, such as Southern Pacific’s Market Street Cable Railway, had greatly inflated the size of their bond offerings above what was required for construction (capital) purposes. The URR had followed this model. The difference between the actual capital expenditures and the revenues raised from the bond sales had lined the pockets of a select group of entrepreneurs.

The result was the URR had an impossible financial burden. Since the Market Street Railway held much of this debt, it again emerged as an operating company when the URR collapsed in 1921. The company inherited three separate cable car systems. The five-foot-gauge Pacific Avenue line, the standard-gauge Castro cable and three 3'6" lines based at Washington-Mason -- Sacramento-Clay, Washington-Jackson and Powell-Mason.

From a cable car perspective the most unusual development of this "new" Market Street Railway was the design by the company’s master mechanic, one Mr. Yount, of a cable car air operated grip and braking system. This was first tried on Castro cable car No. 2 when this car was fitted with air controls on July 1, 1925. No. 2 ran as an "air" car until December 17, 1926, running a total 31, 973 miles using the air grip and braking. A second Castro cable car No. 6 received the air grip and braking system on July 16, 1925. It ran more than 29, 323 miles before December 16, 1926 when the car was restored back to having solely a mechanical grip and braking system.

Control mechanism of Castro Cable Car No. 2, showing the standard levers associated with a mechanical grip and braking system and the experimental air grip handle (left) and air brake handle. "Air" cable cars continued having a mechanical grip and braking system in the event the car ran out of air. Richard Schlaich Collection.

The eighteen-month "air" experiment was failure. During terminal lay-over periods, often the air pressure would be lost. The air tanks had to be recharged by dispatching a truck from the carbarn with an additional air supply or the cable car had to revert to manual operation. Further, gripmen tended not to like the new system feeling that they did not have the same level of control over their car as with the mechanical system. There was also some question over cable wear.

The Market Street Railway retired Castro Car No. 2 after 1927, the only Castro cable car not to be rebuilt with an arch roof during 1925-26. On March 26, 1927, No. 6 now a mechanical car was wrecked after running away and being hit at 24th Street by a 1300 class car on the 11-line. Former Market Street Cable Railway car No. 128 was rebuilt into the 2nd No. 6, as a replacement.

Castro Cable No. 2 that had an air grip and air operated braking system from July 1925 to December 1926 was the only Castro Cable Car not to be rebuilt with an arch roof during 1925-26. The No. 2 shows the design of Castro cable cars from 1907 to 1925-26. Richard Schlaich Collection.

President Starring's new popular with the public Blue and Gold streetcars paint scheme introduced on June 9, 1925 proved to be short lived. Shortly after the Byllesby takeover on January 13, 1926, "California Comfort Car" No. 809 emerged from the company's Elkton shops as the first "White Front" car. This paint scheme was so successful that all of the company's rolling stock, including cable cars, was soon sporting white fronts. The only exception was the Pacific Avenue cable cars that retained their green fronts until the line's November 1929 abandonment.

Further it is interesting to note that the article has the correct date when Andrew S. Hallidie successful tested the world’s first cable car, August 2, 1873. Most people accepted Hallidie’s version of August 1, 1873, including Edgar Kahn in "Cable Car Days in San Francisco" In fact the scheduled Cable Car Centennial Celebration was originally scheduled for August 1, 1973 until a review of August 1873 newspapers proved the actual date was August 2, 1873.

However, the wrong date of 1893 is cited for the start of San Francisco electric streetcar service. April 27, 1892, was opening day for the San Francisco & San Mateo Railway Company -- San Francisco’s pioneer commercial electric railway. WER Special thanks to Emiliano Echeverria for his input.

-- Walter Rice

Street Railways are most businesslike and yet the history of Market Street Railway for one is filled with romance, a story of remarkable evolution from little beginnings up to a great system which leading railway engineers have valued in excess of sixty millions of dollars, "reproduction cost new" and upon which our own City Engineer O'Shaughnessy placed a valuation of $40,000,000 as a fair price for the City to pay for its purchase.

Its history is interwoven with the romance of San Francisco. Its present is a splendid reality. Its future arouses interest and stirs the imagination. These Railways have forty years yet to live, a longer time than its consolidated system has been in existence, since the longest franchise will be alive in 1965. Forty years is a long time, nearly half a century. What changes, improvements, developments, enhancements in value will come within that time?

Who Knows? One scarcely dares contemplate the changes which may come to us ourselves, and to those around us, as we look forward through so many years. Many of us will long since then have "shuffled off this mortal coil" and go to that country "from whose bourne no traveler ever returns," not even on street cars!

In 1860 the "Pioche Railroad" was started by the Market Street Railway Company, which graded Market Street. This road at first was operated by steam dummies, later by means of horses.

In 1870 the first "Balloon" car was built. This car carried its own turn table and was drawn by mules. When the end of the line was reached the driver lifted a pin running from the body of the car to the trucks, turned the mules in a half circle to where the rear of the car had been, and stuck the pin back in, ready for the return trip.

In 1873 Andrew S. Hallidie invented the first cable car, which started up Clay Street on August 2nd, 1873, from Kearny Street to Jones Street, a distance of twenty-eight hundred feet.

In 1893, twenty years later, an electric line commenced operating, and gradually replaced the cable cars.

A comparison of the past and present of San Francisco's street railways cannot but cause better appreciation of the city's street car transportation facilities.

The standard little old horse car was about twenty-five feet long an averaged seats for fourteen passengers, with room for five to stand. "Bob-tailed" cars were run also.

The new Blue and Gold Car just inaugurated by the Market Street Railway Company is 47 feet long, over bumpers, has a seating capacity for 50 passengers, and is "Made in San Francisco by San Franciscans for San Franciscans." These big electric cars are known as the California type, having an open section in front and back, so passengers may take advantage of San Francisco's splendid climate.

A product of the public relation efforts of Market Street Railway President Mason B. Starring "California Comfort Car" No. 2002 shows off the company’s new blue & gold (yellow) paint scheme for the company photographer, June 1925. This scheme was intended to replace the company’s then standard paint livery of Brewster Green with Tuscan Red trim. Only fourteen cars were painted blue & gold before the then new Byllesby management rolled out the first "White Front" car, No. 809 January 1926. By October 1927, all blue & gold cars had become "White Front" cars. On April 28 of that year 2002 became "White Front" No. 300. Richard Schlaich Collection.
Market Street Railway Company Executive Vice-President Samuel Kahn (right, next to fender) showing the new safety features of his company's new "White Front" streetcars to Fire Chief Murphy and Police Chief O'Brien, January 12, 1927. The White Front paint scheme introduced a year earlier replaced the popular, but short-lived, Blue & Gold scheme.

In early days, in spite of the inconveniences of street railways travel and the very short distance that a passenger could ride, the fare was twenty-five cents. Now, not-withstanding the tremendous advance in all costs, 260,000,000 passengers, including those using transfers, rode on the Market Street Railway Company last year [1924] for a five cent fare, which also entitled them to transfers good all over the system, on cars equipped with modern conveniences, a ride exceeding 20 miles if a person desired to use all transfer privileges. In other words, for these new and modern conveniences, for liberal transfer privileges and for a long ride, a passenger today pays only one-fifth of the charge of early days.

The Company has achieved the remarkable record of carrying more than a billion passengers without a single fatality, and car miles run by it in a year are more than equal to 1200 times the circumference of the globe. New employees are taught the mechanics of the cars before they are entrusted with their operation. In the early days of street railways in San Francisco the number of men employed was insignificant, but the Company is furnishing in recent years steady employment year after year to more than three thousand persons, and, including the dependents, furnishes a means of livelihood for more than twelve thousand people with a payroll approximating five million dollars a year. This large amount of money which is distributed in San Francisco must have an appreciable influence upon the trade of this community, for merchants large and small must certainly participate in its benefits.

The Company is mindful, too, of its men and any story concerning it would be incomplete if a special mention be not made of their responsive faithfulness and loyalty.

Many hundreds of its stockholders are residents of San Francisco.

As to the future: The length of time of the franchises under which the Market Street Railway will continue to operate is not appreciated generally. Very important franchises extend beyond 1940, others covering no inconsiderable portion of the Company's mileage extend to varying dates from 1952 to 1965, whereas those which do not extend beyond 1930 cover less than twenty percent of its total mileage. Market Street Railway Company has forty years to live, four decades. Within that number of years in the past, many great changes and well-neigh incredible developments have taken place, and within that space of time in the future the city's population may well quadruple.

Air controls for the grip and braking are clearly shown in this view of a Gripman at the controls. Richard Schlaich Collection

The Company is contemplating placing in service cable cars on which the cable grip and brakes are operated by air, a recent invention to displace the present unwieldy manually operated grip, give more space and convenience for passengers, and materially lighten the work of gripmen. This is the first substantial improvement in method of operating cable cars, since their inauguration. And so goes the tale, which might be carried on indefinitely, always with items of interest.

San Francisco News Letter
September 1925

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Last updated 01-Sep-2004