California Street Cable Railroad

by Joe Thompson

Where Should I Go from Here? Visit the Map

Cal/Grant California Street Cable Railroad car crossing Grant Avenue in 1945 (Source: [group 1:10], Roy D. Graves Pictorial Collection, ca. 1850-ca. 1968, BANC PIC 1905.17500--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.).

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

gauge: 3'6"

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.

Intersection Company Status

line: O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde

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

gauge: 3'6"

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

gauge: 3'6"

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.

Patent drawing John Hammond's 1891 patent D21,042, for the design of the California-type car. Read patent D21,042. June, 2007 Picture of the Month.

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:
Cal Cable Strike Set to Start This Morning (01-Sep-1949)
Transit Tie-Up (02-Sep-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.

How the Grip Arm is Trained Read "How The 'Grip' Arm is Trained", a 1902 San Francisco Call article about physical training and recreation for Cal Cable carmen.

accident detail Read an article about a 1902 collision between a Jones Street shuttle cable car and an Ellis Street electric car: FOUR PERSONS ARE SEVERELY INJURED IN DOUBLE COLLISION AND CARS OF ELLIS AND JONES STREET ARE DAMAGED. January, 2018 Picture of the Month.

hold up detail Read newspaper articles about the 1922 holdup of a California Street cable car at California and Jones: The Great Cable Car Robbery. May, 2022 Picture of the Month.

Jones last day A crowd gathers at Jones and McAllister on the last day of the Jones Street Shuttle, 06-Feb-1954 (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8093). February, 2004 Picture of the Month.

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:
Muni to Drop 1st Cable Line in Two Weeks (27-Jan-1954)

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:
Let the People Vote on Cables (01-Feb-1954)
Legality of Cal Cable Cutback is Challenged (02-Feb-1954)

The last day of Jones Street Shuttle service was 06-Feb-1954:
Bell Tolls for a Shuttle (07-Feb-1954)
The Last Ride (08-Feb-1954)
End of Hyde line/California and Hyde People try to prevent the last O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde car from entering the barn at California and Hyde on 15-May-1954. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8063).
End of Hyde line/Hyde and Beach Protestors at Hyde and Beach, objecting to the abandonment of the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line on 15-May-1954. Note the Buena Vista Cafe in the background. Bob Townley is in the US Air Force uniform and Jack Perry is on the step just below him. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-8092). May, 2004 Picture of the Month.

On 16-May-1954, Muni abandoned the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line and cut the main line back to Van Ness Avenue:
Cal Cable Car Cut to Begin at Midnight (15-May-1954)
Hyde Cable Line Ends (16-May-1954)

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.
Transit Group Backs Prop 'E' (07-Jun-1954)

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.
California Street Profile California Street Cable Railroad profile (Source: Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (LC-HABS/HAER) HAER,CAL,38-SANFRA,137-1)

California Street "California Street Wire Rope Rail Road. At a point 225 ft. above the bay, having attained an elevation of 190 ft. in a distance of 1875 feet." The original scan was a little crooked. from "The Cable Railway Company's System of Traction Railways for Cities and Towns".
Cal Cable Train California Street Cable Railroad train, inbound, probably between Franklin and Gough, before 1891 (Source: "Market Street Railway Company, Past, Present and Future", San Francisco News Letter, Sep 1925). Nov, 1997 Picture of the Month.
Cal/Grant 2 California Street Cable Railroad car, outbound, between Kearney and Grant, about 1899 (Source: [group 4:40], Roy D. Graves Pictorial Collection, ca. 1850-ca. 1968, BANC PIC 1905.17500--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.).

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.

cable car in barn California Street Cable Railroad car 11 in a barn in New Jersey (Source: Bonhams. All Rights Reserved).

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 21 California Street car 21, preserved at Travel Town in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. According to Ron Westlund, who so kindly sent these photos:
Back in the 60s it was in really bad shape. Then Universal took it for use in a movie. They made it into a Chicago traction trolley, hence the No. 28.

We visited Travel Town in March, 1998 and saw the car myself. It looks as if it is in good general condition. We visited again in July, 2007 and saw that the car was still there, looking a little more raggedy. See photos on my Park Trains and Tourist Trains page ( (Source: Ron Westlund).

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.

38 broadside Car 38 has been preserved in Lakeport, county seat of Lake County for many years. In 2007, Gripman Gordon Miller went to document the car being moved to another location for renovation. Gordon Miller photo. All rights reserved.
Car 42 Cal Cable 42, an O'Farrell-Jones-Hyde car, prepared for its return to the rails. May 2005. Photo by Val Lupiz. June, 2005 Picture of the Month

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.

42 at Betteravia Former California Street Cable Railroad’s O’Farrell, Jones and Hyde car No. 42, built by the W. L. Holman Co. in 1906-07, became surplus when Muni abandoned that line in 1954. Unlike other cars likewise made surplus, which met more orthodox fates, No. 42 found itself in an agricultural setting, a cattle feedlot at Betteravia in the Santa Maria Valley, on the central California coast. The feedlot had its own 3½' gauge railway! The feedlot operator mounted No. 42 on a pair of narrow-gauge Los Angeles Railway Birney streetcar trucks, one of which was motorized, to run the car on the track. The Los Angeles Transit Lines had ended all Birney service on June 30, 1946. No. 42 is pictured at Betteravia during March 1962, 43-years before No. 42 would return to streets of San Francisco. One its Birney trucks would be used by the San Jose Trolley Corporation (Kelley Park) for its Birney car project, San Jose Railroad No. 143. Photo by Jim Walker. All rights reserved. July, 2005 Picture of the Month.

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.

42 California/Drumm Cal Cable O'Farrell-Jones-Hyde car 42 crosses Drumm street towards the terminal. November, 2012.

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.

Cal Cable 43 California Street Cable Railroad car 43 ran under battery power at Knott's Berry Farm. Bob Murphy took this photo at the Orange Empire Railway Museum. All rights reserved.

Cal Cable 43/2 Another view of car 43. Bob Murphy took this photo at the Orange Empire Railway Museum. All rights reserved.

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.
Cal Cable 45 in Colorado California Street Cable Railroad car 45, serving as a fast food stand in Snowmass, Colorado. Photo copyright 2003 by Dave Rhodes, all rights reserved.

Steve's Cal Cable car 46 being delivered to Steve's Gay '90s.

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.

Steve's Cable Car Cal Cable car 46 with entertainers from Steve's Gay '90s.

Harold Warp Pioneer Village logo

Car 47 is preserved at the Harold Warp Pioneer Village, a roadside attraction (that I must visit one day) in Minden, Nebraska. It is preserved indoors and apparently has been at Pioneer Village since San Francisco's Muni sold off a number of surplus cars in the 1950s. Thank you to Devin McCutchen for letting me know about this car.

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.

Cal Cable dash Kim Wahler found the dash from a California Street Cable Railroad O'Farrell, Jones and Hyde cable car in a field north of San Francisco. Thank you to Kim for letting me use the photo. All rights reserved. June, 2017 Picture of the Month.

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.

This video, taken on 04-April-2007, shows car 58, built in 1918, running outbound from Montgomery to Kearney, passing the Banker's Heart. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers will require two clicks to start the video.) See more videos on my Cable Car Video page.

from Poor's Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

P. 231

California Street (Cable) Railway Co. operates 2.25 miles of road, owns 25 cars and 25 dummies. Directors, Chas. Mayne, Robert Watt, A. Borel, C. W. Randall, Jerome Lincoln, San Francisco, Cal -- C. Mayne, Pres., Robert Watt, Vice-Pres., T. W. Hinchman, Sec., A. Borel & Co., Treas., James Harris, Supt., etc. -- GENERAL OFFICE, California and Larkin Sts., San Francisco, Cal.

Hello Central, Give Me Cal Cable

Here is the California Street Cable Railroad's listing in the February, 1903 Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Company San Francisco phone directory:

East 113. Cal. St. Cable R. R. Co., J. W. Harris, Supt., Hyde & Cal.

And here is JW Harris' home listing:

West 768. Harris,J. W., r. 2305 Cal.

Dedicated volunteers at San Francisco Genealogy typed in every page of the book.

CSC Shutdown signs

The California Street line was shut down for renovation from 24-December-2010 to 21-June-2011. The cars were fixed up and much hardware under the streets and driving machinery in the powerhouse were replaced.

I took this photo at California and Drumm on 30-December-2010. The sign on the left was prepared for the planned shutdown. The sign on the right was apparently improvised when the line shut down early.

Cal Cable shutdown sign A sign at the California and Drumm terminal announces the shutdown. September, 2017.

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.

car 56 I took this photo at California and Kearny on 26-June-2011. Outbound car 56 climbs toward Kearny with a load of passengers.

Prince Charles on cable car "Plainclothes security men hang onto cable car and policeman blocks route as cable car whisks Prince Charles through Financial District." San Francisco's official greeter Cyril Magnin rides next to him. See an article about the visit. (Source: Examiner photo by Bob Bryant. San Francisco Examiner, 28-October-1977 All Rights Reseved.) October, 2022 Picture of the Month.

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Last updated 01-October-2022