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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The San Francisco Street Cars

For any of my fellow writers out there who read this...Ya know how you are just chugging along on a story and then you have that heart sinking moment where you realize you forgot something...something that you probably should have covered...Ohhhh...about one hundred pages back? For me, with Castles, the street cars in Frisco was that thing, the elephant in the book that was in the scenery the entire time but yours truly had the war and protests and music and movements dancing around in my head so much that I forgot all about this infamous aspect of Frisco living. Fortunately for me, my character had these same things dancing around in her pretty little head as well so it wasn't hard to explain why it took so long for her to hop on a street car and ride. Eric's visit seemed like the perfect opportunity to have this experience. Now, I have personally never been to San Francisco in my life. Let's face it. I'm poor. The extent of my traveling OUTSIDE of my head (and my state) has been limited to Kentucky, West Virginia, and one very short weekend to Virginia where I saw the ocean but I did not get to see Jamestown or Colonial Williamsburg (yes, twelve years later, that still irks me...) so what I know about these great places I have been writing about most of my life is what I read about them and what I can see via the internet (which is why a book like this takes years to write for much research, so little time). And when you are reading about the hippie side of Frisco the street cars simply do not come up a great deal. I use this as my excuse for why it took Liz four years from the first time she first went to the city to actually get on one. I'll let you, my beloved readers of book and blog, decide whether or not this excuse is acceptable. 

'His smile was all I needed. Before anyone else could wake up, we were out on the streets, bundled up against the bay wind. Not until that day had I realized just how much there was of me in that place. Every shop we went into I had a story for. On every street corner there was something that I could remember about this or that. As we branched off onto streets around the area there were houses I had been to, people I knew, moments I had. L.A., though it was my home, did not hold the memories that Frisco had. The city was coming alive for Eric with everything I said. When I suggested Golden Gate Park and asked if he wanted to go back for the car or go on, he said he wanted to walk. Once there I recounted for him the day of the Be-In over a year earlier and the picnic on the Fourth of July.
     As we came back towards the shop he requested something that, in all my time in Frisco, I had never done. “What’s it like to take a street car?” When I explained that I had no idea, he all but demanded, “Then let’s fucking do it, cuz! I can’t believe, all the shit you’ve done, you’ve never taken a street car. This is San Francisco, goober!”
     I laughed at the truth in the statement and the use of his childhood insult for me. My legs felt tired but I ignored them as I walked on to the downtown area where I had seen street cars go on more than one occasion. It did seem absurd to me that I had never done something as typical as ride on one of the famous cars. It was just never my thing. But for Eric I would make an exception. As soon as we spotted one, we hopped on. I was able to dig up enough money from my jeans to pay the way and I agreed when Eric suggested we stand. The icy wind slapping my face made me think that summer was probably the best time to take a ride but I couldn’t complain. Never had I seen the city in such a way and we both had a good time.'
(So how is that for an explanation? Did it work for you? I hope so since one of the biggest jobs of a fiction writer is to make the fiction seem believable...Ironic, huh? haha)
For those of you who are history buffs, here is the long and short of the cable car's time in Frisco (taken from
  Early Cable Car History:
  The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw the toll slippery grades could extract when a horse- drawn streetcar slid backwards under its heavy load. The steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem.
  Hallidie had been born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852. His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire- rope. As a young man, Hallidie found uses for this technology in California's Gold Country. He used the wire-rope when designing and building a suspension bridge across Sacramento's American River. He also found another use for the wire-rope when pulling heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks. The technology was in place for pulling cable cars.
  The next step bringing Hallidie closer to his fate was moving his wire- rope manufacturing to San Francisco. All that was now needed was seeing the accident for the idea to become full blown-a cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco's fearsome hills.
  Cable Car Chronology:
  • 1852 - Andrew Hallidie arrives from Great Britain
  • 1869 - Hallidie witnessed horse-car accident and had inspiration for a cable railway
  • 1873 August 2 - Andrew Hallidie tested the first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones Streets
  • 1873 Sept. 1 - Clay Street line starts public service at an estimated cost to build of $85,150
  • 1877 - Sutter Street Railroad converts from animal power to cable with no break in service
  • 1878 April 10 - Californa Street Cable Railroad Company (Cal Cable) goes into service
  • 1880 Feb. - Geary Street, Park and Ocean Railroad began service
  • 1881 - Dunedin, New Zealand starts cable car service. Stays in service until 1957
  • 1882 Jan. - Chicago opens it's own cable car system much to winter wind-chilled pedestrians' pleasure
  • 1882 Jan. - Presidio and Ferries Railroad (Union Street line) opens service
  • 1883 August - Market Street Cable Railway starts its first line
  • 1887 - Washington-Mason powerhouse and caarbarn built
  • 1887-88 - Frank sprague created the first successful electric streetcar system in Richmond, Virginia
  • 1888 March 28 - Powell Street cable car service started by Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company
  • 1889 - Cal Cable experiments with a double-ended car with open sections at the ends
  • 1889 August - Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company started operating
  • 1891 - Cal Cable replaced its two-car trains with double-ended cars
  • 1892 April - First electric streetcars with overhead wires began running in San Francisco
  • 1906 April 18 - San Francisco's Great Earthquake damages the cable cars, allowing United Railroads (URR) to convert much of the city to streetcar service
  • 1912 May - Eight cable car lines remained in service in San Francisco
  • 1929 November - Market Street Railway (formerly URR) ends service on the Pacific Avenue line
  • 1941 April - Castro cable line taken over by buses
  • 1942 February - Sacramento-Clay line taken over by buses
  • 1944 September - The City and County of San Francisco took over the Market Street Railway with its two Powell Street cable lines. Cal Cable last privately held transit system in San Francisco
  • 1946 - Committee release statistics proving cable cars lost less money than Muni buses
  • 1946 November - Committee succeeds in getting a charter amendment to save the Powell Street cables on the ballot
  • 1947 - Mayor Lapham attempts to close down cable car system
  • 1947 March 4 - Friedel Klussman rallied a new group called the Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars
  • 1947 April 3 - The Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars began a petition drive for a charter amendment with the City of San Francisco to save the cable cars
  • 1947 May 1 - The City Attorney ruled against the Utilities Manager James Turner, thereby allowing the citizens of San Francisco to vote on the charter amendment to continue operating the cable car system
  • 1947 Nov. 4 - Measure 10 won by a vote of 166,989 to 51,457 forcing the City of San Francisco to maintain and operate the Powell Street cable car system
  • 1951 July - Cal Cable's three lines were shut down
  • 1952 January - The City purchased and reopened Cal Cable's lines and powerhouse at California and Hyde
  • 1954 Feb. - The Jones Street Shuttle was eliminated
  • 1954 May - The California Street line was shortened to cover only Presidio to Van Ness Avenues. The O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde line stopped running
  • 1954 June - The Cable Car Lady, Friedel Klussmann and her Citizens' Committee were outmaneuvered when they mounted a new campaign to save the cable cars. A "Yes" vote on Proposition E meant abolishing half the cable car system; a "No" meant all 5 lines in the system would be saved. Proposition E narrowly passed setting the stage for today's cable car system
  • 1956 Sept. 2 - Car # 524 made the last trip on the Washington-Jackson line
  • 1957 December - All the current lines were now running after the installation of a new turntable at Hyde and Beach Streets so the single-ended Powell Street cars could turn around and all the cables were linked to the Washington-Mason powerhouse
  • 1964 Oct. 1 - Official ceremony at Hyde and Beach designated San Francisco's cable car system a special "moving" National Historic Landmark
  • 1971 November - Vote to protect cable car schedules thanks again to a drive by the Cable Car Lady, Friedel Klussmann and her citizens' group
  • 1973 Aug.2 - Cable Car Centennial celebrated by loading Clay St. Cable Car #8 onto a truck and driving it on the Clay St. hill
  • 1982 to June 1984 - Cable car system rebuilt and historic cable cars refurbished
  • 1984 June 21 - Festivities celebrated the return of full cable car service with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Union Square followed by a parade up Powell Street led by the U.S. Marine band followed by cable cars
  • 1997 March 1 - goes online
  • 1997 March 4 - Celebration installing a new collage at the car barn commemorating the 50th anniversary of Friedel Klussmann's saving the cable cars replacement by buses
  • 1998 Jan. 15 - First female grip operator, Fannie Mae Barnes, operates a cable car after developing the great upper body strength needed for the grip and brakes
The full ride on a cable car:

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