San Francisco’s ‘forgotten’ cable car is back to work after a 16-year restoration hiatus – NBC Bay Area
After 16 years in repair shop purgatory, the 129-year-old San Francisco Cable Car 8 hit the tracks again this week, following a full top-to-bottom restoration that some fear may never happen. .
The car rolled out of the cable car barn on Monday, carrying a crew that included many of the workers who restored the car plank by plank – as well as some of the transport enthusiasts who put the car back on the city radar after it was apparently forgotten. .
“This car has been out of service for 16 years,” said Rick Laubscher, chairman of the historic Market Street Railway Group, who was among the voices calling on the SFMTA to revive the long-stalled restoration. “It’s a masterful reconstruction by the cable car carpentry shop and cable car barn staff.”
Car 8 – originally 508 – was built in 1893 in the East Bay by The Carter Brothers company. It spent decades in service, eventually working the Powell/Hyde route. Like all cars in the city’s fleet, decades of up and down hills have taken a heavy physical toll. It was removed from service on April 10, 2006 for restoration. It was cut down to its wheelbase – and that’s where the restoration seemed to go off the rails.
“She’s been forgotten, neglected,” said Arne Hansen, acting supervisor of the electrical shop at the cable car barn.
Whether Car 8 fell victim to bureaucracy or cost-cutting, or was simply forgotten is part of its history. His salvation came when Hansen’s workshop worker joined a chorus of cable car enthusiasts like Laubscher who called on the city to revive the restoration. The campaign worked.
“In 2018 we started working,” Hansen said. “Go back up again – plank by plank.”
The revival of Cable Car 8 was the equivalent of a remodel from the house down to the poles. The workshop team rebuilt the car from the wheels, slat-roofed benches – painting it in a green color scheme common in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
“It’s kind of a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Hansen said of his skilled crew. “It’s been almost 150 years now.”
A gentle rain christened the car on Monday as it slid down the tracks under the reins of Willa Johnson, only the second female gripsman in agency history and part of the two-woman crew taking the car for his inaugural round.
“As it’s historic, that’s a good thing,” Johnson said as the car stopped for a photo break at the bay end of Hyde Street.
Laubscher noted that this year marks 75 years since a woman named Friedel Klussman successfully led a citywide revolt to push back against a city proposal to remove cable cars and replace them with buses.
“It’s even more fitting for this race today, we have an all-female crew,” Laubscher said.
The car rumbled down Powell Street and to the cable car bend in Market where crowds of tourists watched the centuries-old ritual of crews spinning the car on a turntable using only human power. Then it was back up the hill and onto the famous stretch of Hyde Street, winding past visitors watching the winding course of Lombard Street and along the steep face of Hyde Street towards the bay.
“He works like he’s never missed a day,” Hansen said, beaming.
All along the route, tourists whipped out camera phones to snap photos – oblivious to the extra piece of history rumbling.
“It’s a sign that San Francisco is coming back,” Laubscher said as visitors trained their cameras on the car. “It’s symbolic of the return of tourists, of people coming out of the neighborhoods to come and shop in Union Square.”
The pomp and circumstance of the newly restored car’s first run was fleeting. After the quick ride, Johnson grabbed the train, sounded a two-bell bell, and guided the car down the tracks to begin fare service. It was time to get back to work.