It was the west’s great metropolis-San Francisco. Within the short sixty year span before the Great Earthquake and Fire of April 1906, San Franciscans had built a major world-class city. The water front had been extended, sand dunes reclaimed and steep hillsides settled. Andrew Smith Hallidie’s successful application in 1873 of cable technology to urban transit altered the growth patterns of San Francisco. The city now grew westward, from the bay toward the Pacific Ocean, up the steep grades that characterize Nob and Russian hills. Previously, these had been accessible only to the few people who could afford private transportation up a hill too steep for horsecar or steam train service.
Until the second decade of the 20th century, roughly three miles separated the Ocean Beach area from the developed parts of the city, the intervening tracts were largely sand dunes. In fact, the many sand dunes were to remain a part of the City’s topography until after World War II. By 1880 cable cars service had reached roughly the four-mile mark of the seven-mile distance from bay to ocean. At least two-third of the City was unpopulated.
Isolated from urban San Francisco were the recreational destinations of Harbor View (today’s Marina district) and Ocean Beach with its beaches and attractions such as the Adolf Sutro’s Cliff House restaurant and nearby Sutro Heights Casino. Harbor View was a Bayside area along the shores of the Golden Gate on the northerly tip the San Francisco peninsula. Although close into the city center, it was separated from the mainstream of the City's life. Nob and Russian Hills, and Pacific Heights provided the barriers. Harbor View boosted a bath house, a beach, an area where the local militia practiced and picnicked, and the Presidio Military Reservation. Despite being remote from the city, both Ocean Beach and Harbor View became major water playgrounds. Both provided the transit entrepreneur and the developer the opportunity to earn substantial profits.
The question was how economically to serve these destinations. The problem was compounded because traffic would be largely seasonal and then on Sundays and holidays.
Reaching Harbor View
San Francisco’s second cable car company was the Sutter Street Railroad. It converted its line on Sutter Street, an east-west corridor, from Market Street to Larkin from animal power to cable without a break in service, in January 1877. A cable car line's lower operating costs and its ability to carry more fare-paying passengers per hour were incentives for horsecar operators, like the Sutter Street Railroad, to convert to cable operation on routes where heavy ridership could justify the initial large investment. A year later it began the first phrase of its north-south cable car service on Larkin Street.
As early as the mid-1860's, the Sutter Street Railroad planned to reach Harbor View. Erratic and only modestly successful omnibus service began to serve Harbor View from North Beach in the late 1850's. During 1867 Henry Casebolt, the superintendent and later the owner of the Sutter Street Railroad, acquired as private individual the dormant franchise of the San Francisco & Fort Point Railroad. Using this franchise, Casebolt began a competing omnibus service to Harbor View. This service ran from the terminus of the Sutter Street Railroad’s north-south line at Polk and Broadway to Harbor View. Settlement in this area soon showed the need for a horsecar line, and, on March 11, 1869, the Presidio (Harbor View) branch of the Sutter Street Railroad replaced Casebolt’s omnibus service.
Low population density, despite the fact that the streets along and adjoining the car line began to be lined with small commercial establishments along with the growing number of homes large and small, and a very long and hilly route made this route unprofitable. Accordingly Casebolt made economies, the first of which was to operate horse cars with but a single horse. Casebolt used his famous "balloon cars." This design had the carriage of the vehicle mounted on a pivot above the trucks and undercarriage so that at the terminus of the line the horse and the upper portion of the car could be turned 180 degrees, thereby reserving direction without turning the trucks. The pivots often became loose producing a rough and unacceptable ride. Casebolt was soon convinced that a mechanical solution -- cable or steam operation -- was the only way to make line pay.
Economics argued against a cable car extension and favored steam. Population density was too sparse and traffic too subject to seasonal variations to justify the initial large investment required of a cable car system. Steam operation could commence for a fraction of the investment cost of cable technology.
On September 22, 1877, a new steam dummy service began connecting with Sutter Street Railroad's cross town horsecar operation at Polk and Broadway. Almost eleven years would pass before the Sutter Street Railway (company's new name) would extend its crosstown cable car line north from Sutter via Polk, Pacific Avenue to Fillmore. The new steam dummy line ran from Broadway via Polk, Vallejo, Octavia, Union, Steiner, Greenwich, Baker via the Harbor View Baths to Lewis Street. The Sutter Street Railroad purchased two new five-foot gauge 0-4-0T Baldwin built steam dummies for this service. Both had 8" x 10" cylinders and 30" drivers. No. 1 was named the "Harbor View" and No. 2 the "Casebolt." Steam dummies had their locomotive body camouflaged by a wooden car body designed to resemble that of a horse drawn streetcar. The idea was to stop horses from being frightened by a belching steam locomotive. The camouflage did not fool horses. They knew it was a fearsome steam engine. Occasionally, passengers were carried in a steam dummy. This was not so for these dummies. Five large cars were purchased, and lettered "A " through "E." An engine house was built on the company's right-of-way on Jefferson Street at Lyon.
Harbor View, by this time, was a major resort with baths, picnic grounds, and a small amusement park. However, Harbor View was too far away from the rest of the lines of the Sutter Street Railroad. This fact combined with low ridership made the line uneconomical.
In 1880 a new cable car company, the Presidio & Ferries Railroad, was organized. This line opened for paying passengers in January 1882. The Presidio & Ferries created a direct route from the City’s commercial area to Cow Hollow-Harbor View via Union Street over Russian Hill. The new company approached the Sutter Street Railroad to purchase their steam line. The Sutter Street company was ready to rid itself of its losing steam route. This was part of a larger plan on of the Sutter Street Railway (reorganized as "Railway") to eliminate its excess trackage and facilities, following the sale of the road by Henry Casebolt. Ownership of the steam line passed to the Presidio & Ferries in 1881.
The Presidio & Ferries soon shortened the steam line to run from Union and Steiner Streets to Harbor View. The Union Street cable line provided the connections to and from for the rest of the City. The steam line for the first time now was both economically and operationally efficient.
By 1885 the line was successful enough to add equipment. A local foundry, Marchutz & Cantrell, was contracted to build two locomotives, numbered 3 and 4. These were also 0-4-0T engines. Their cylinders were 8" x 14" with 28" drivers. The Presidio & Ferries now had the ability to run a real "streetcar service" along the remaining steam trackage. The Harbor View Baths retained their popularity as a destination. During September, 1892, following a two week changeover, the cable line was extended to directly to the Presidio Military Reservation. The steam line was further cut back, now it ran from Baker & Greenwich streets to Harbor View.
Remaining one-mile (one-way distance) of total trackage was single tracked with a couple of passing sidings. This was the line’s final form. Steam power provided service on this line longer than any San Francisco street railway line, a total of twenty-nine years. It took an earthquake finally to end the last remnant of the route. Serviced ended on the fateful morning of April 18, 1906. The Presidio & Ferries experienced the most destruction from the earthquake and fire of any railway.
Following the earthquake the Union Street cable car line was electrified. No service of any kind over the former steam route was provided. After the 1890's Harbor View had faced increasing competition from other areas of the City as an entertainment center. The area became increasingly industrial. Harbor View after the earthquake still offered amusements. However, with no direct transit its fortunes began to decline rapidly, the end coming in 1914.
In the years immediately following the great earthquake, civic and business leaders wanted to show off their new San Francisco. San Francisco would be the host to a World's Fair. The Harbor View property, and its entire adjoining areas were cleared to make way for the fair. The fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, was a resounding success.
Park & Ocean Railroad
The Park & Ocean Railroad began on December 1, 1883, as a four-mile long connecting standard gauge steam train service to Ocean Beach from the outer terminal of the Market Street Cable Railway’s Haight Street branch. This line was a subsidiary operation of the Southern Pacific's Market Street Cable Railway Co. Opening day, a Sunday, was successful beyond all expectations. Over 10,000 passengers were carried.
As with the line to Harbor View it was economics which dictated the use of steam power. The territory between between terminals possessed little if any population. For most of its distance the Park & Ocean Railroad ran along the southern edge of Golden Gate Park. On one side of the line was the lush park. On the other side was the desert like sand dunes of the Sunset District. Often train crews would have to shovel sand off the tracks so trains may continue. There was a tiny population base at Ocean Beach. Although operating within San Francisco its population base served gave the line an interurban character. It would be another nine years before San Francisco’s first electric streetcar would start.
The line was initially equipped with four enclosed Baldwin 0-4-2T steam dummies, numbered 1 through 4. (Number 2 survives today in Los Angeles’ Travel Town as Southern Pacific No. 20.) These had 12" x 16' cylinders with 36" drivers and weighed 40,000 pounds. They were built in 1880, as part of an order of six. The other two were assigned to the Market Street Extension. This line ran on Market Street between Valencia and Castro Streets between 1880 and 1888, when the Castro Street cable replaced the line. The rolling stock consisted of sixteen passenger coaches built in the Central Pacific’s Sacramento shops.
At the time when the Park & Ocean opened, the entrepreneur Adolf Sutro had purchased most of the land at Ocean Beach near the Cliff House. Sutro had hoped that a free transfer would be provided between the Haight Street cable and the Park & Ocean. He became outraged when both lines charged a five-cent fare. Sutro felt that this was an economic hardship for families wishing to enjoy his beach resorts, or to buy Ocean Beach property. This began a battle between Sutro and the Market Street Railway and its subsidiaries that was to last for the remainder of Sutro's public life. Ironically, Sutro's many improvements at the Beach did much to contribute to the success of the Park & Ocean.
By 1884 the line’s success required the company to purchase four additional locomotives. Baldwin again was the builder building four 2-4-2T engines in March of that year. Numbered 5 through 8 these engines had 15" x 22" cylinders, 48" drivers and weighted 62,000 pounds. Unlike the original locomotives a dummy street car body did not camouflage these engines.
Following the Panic of 1893, San Francisco Chronicle publisher M. H. de Young promoted the idea of a fair in Golden Gate Park. The fair known as the California Midwinter Exposition was held in the early part of 1894. An obstacle to having this fair was its distance from efficient transportation. To solve this problem the Park & Ocean Railroad jointly with its parent the Southern Pacific built a temporary freight only connection to the Southern Pacific Railroad at Ocean View (southwestern San Francisco). The franchise for this special connecting trackage expired in late 1894.
Soon after the fair’s close economics began to dictate conversion to an electric trolley line. Transit companies by the 1890s were attracted to the electric car. Electric streetcars had greater speed and system capacity, allowing for more passengers per hour and greater revenues, and streetcar lines had significantly lower operating costs than both cable and steam. Poles were erected beginning in 1895, but the conversion was delayed by franchise disputes. Finally the steam line shut down on March 18, 1898. The new electric line known as the Ferries Park & Ocean opened on June 27. For a single five-cent fare passengers now could ride all the way from the Ferry Building to Ocean Beach. On Sundays electric trains operated from the traditional Haight and Stanyan terminal. The road’s 1883 40-foot steam coaches provided the consists for this service. These rebuilt cars were San Francisco’s first to have air brakes. Three of the sixteen cars were converted to motor cars. All sixteen cars were sold to the Pacific Electric Railway in 1902.
All Aboard to Land’s End
After a wait of three years Adolf Sutro made his move against the Market Street Railway and its subsidiary the Park & Ocean. The solution was to build one of the most scenic short-line railroads ever constructed.
The Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company (also called the Powell Street Railway) began cable car service to City’s Western Addition with the opening in April 1888, of its Powell-Jackson line. At the line’s California and Central Avenue terminal, halfway across San Francisco, the new cable car line made a connection with its own steam trains to the ocean, which started service that July. Sutro had successfully prevailed on his fellow capitalists, notably his cousin the financier Gustav Sutro, not only to build new cable and steam lines, but to charge only five-cents for a trip from downtown to the ocean front properties he owned.
During 1887 and in the spring of 1888, the steam line was built. The three-foot gauge three and a quarter mile line ran out California Street to 33rd Avenue from where it wound a scenic path along the cliffs above the Golden Gate to Land’s End. On this outer section was a two-hundred-foot long tunnel on a curve. The line was double tracked until the tunnel. On the single track section passing sidings featuring spring switches were used. In addition, a one mile branch to Golden Gate Park was built. This line left the main California Street line at 7th Avenue, ran south on 7th Avenue to a station (which still exists) at "D" Street (now Fulton).
The spectacular ride along the cliffs above the Golden Gate earned the Ferries & Cliff House Railway glowing press in all the San Francisco guide books of the period. Unfortunately, periodic slides plagued this trackage requiring expensive repairs to maintain service. The line’s opening had been delayed because of the need to construct retaining walls.
Baldwin initially built six 2-4-2T locomotives. Numbers 1 and 2 featured 13" x 18" cylinders with 45" drivers. Numbers 3 through 6 had 10" x 16" cylinders, 41" drivers and weighted 40,000 pounds. In 1890, two 60,000 pound 2-4At locomotives were added to the roster. These had 14" x 18" cylinders and 48" drivers and like the other two larger engines were designed to meet the heavy Sunday traffic demands. Mahoney Brothers of San Francisco built sixteen coaches. Eight were "combination" cars having both an open and closed section, four were totally enclosed and four were open cars.
The line was an immediate success. Service was frequent and well patronized from the beginning. However, heavy bonded indebtedness forced Gustav Sutro to sell on October 14, 1893 all his railway holdings, including his interest in the Ferries & Cliff House Railway, to the Pacific Development Company a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific. The result was a merger of many properties under the name Market Street Railway. An immediate consequence was the raising to 10 cents the fare to Land’s End and Adolf Sutro’s many attractions including the world’s largest indoor swimming pool.
Electrification became inevitable. Beginning in 1895, the Market Street Railway began erecting poles in anticipation of electrification. However, it would be another decade before the line was converted, the last steam train ran on April 17, 1905. The new standard gauge double track electric line opened on May 26, 1905, after the Land’s End tunnel had been daylighted.
Although the last whistle of these steam lines has long since echoed in the night, they nevertheless provided the average San Franciscan of the period the ability to reach the recreational water front frontiers of the City. This factor alone made these steam lines an important part of the social fabric of the west’s greatest city.
& FERRIES RAILROAD
PARK & OCEAN RAILROAD
S.P. Co. Nos. 20, 21, & 22 used on Southern California Motor Road, later No. 22 converted to a 0-4-OT and in 1905 all converted to shop switchers. No. 20 donated to Travel Town in 1954.
FERRIES & CLIFF HOUSE RAILROAD
Published in the Nov/DEC 1999
issue of Live Steam.
Copyright 1999-2005 by Walter Rice and Emiliano Echeverria. All rights reserved.
Last updated 01-Sep-2005