Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Bobby Boy’s Adventures in San Francisco (continued)

I left my heart in San Francisco—  not quite, but I almost left some blood in the city when I heard a radio announcement calling for blood donors.  But I was on my way out of town so I couldn’t help the cause up there.

When I posted this photo on Facebook, it received quite a few “likes” and some comments.  To start this story, we have to go back about 15 years to August-September 1967.  Some years ago, I posted the story of my first major trip to the Bay Area, which involved driving a truckload of furniture to Berkeley for a friend of my first wife.  My next trip northward was in Nov. 1967, when I went up for a fan trip (railway enthusiast excursion) on the Municipal Railway electric streetcar lines.  

The Southern Pacific “Lark” overnight train up the coast was still running, but it wouldn’t arrive in The City until 7:30 AM.  So I went to the then-new Greyhound-RTD station behind the Pacific Electric Building and bought a ticket to SF via Bakersfield.  The bus leaving LA would be going to Sacramento, so to get to SF I would change buses in Bakersfield and transfer to a bus that had bypassed LA after stopping in Riverside and San Bernardino.

The schedule said that the SF bus would leave 20 minutes after the Sacramento bus arrived.  As we rumbled up I-5 (it may have been US 99 back then), it seemed like we were moving slightly faster than a Wells Fargo stage coach, and, coming down onto the flatlands after the Grapevine, I started checking my watch, because the bus was running late.  When we got near the Bakersfield station, I was ready to bail out and make a mad dash for the San Francisco bus, but the driver said, “Take it easy, the other bus usually runs late too.”  This proved to be the case, as the bus to SF pulled in just about the same time.  Then it was off to dreamland as the bus made its way to The City. 

After spending the day exploring places I had missed on my September visit, I joined the party of streetcar-starved Angelenos and local fans who also wanted to take the Saturday night ride.  We gathered at the old carbarn (which still had cracks from the 1906 earthquake) and boarded Municipal Railway car 1011, one of ten 1946-vintage double-ended cars that had been modified for single-ended operation in the 1955.  We explored most of the Muni system, including one line that was usually covered by bus service during evenings and weekends.  We were “shadowed” by a Muni inspector, leading one Southern California fan to wonder whether someone at Muni wanted to be sure we didn’t run the car to the end of the M Line, load it on a low-bed trailer,  and have it half way to Perris by the time the sun came up.  But the car got back to the barn with no hijack attempts, and indeed it is still in the Muni fleet, and we’ll take a look at its current appearance later in the show. 

Going uphill on the Muni J Line.  Not sure how I got this shot with my little camera and the blue flashbulbs.  Maybe I waited until someone with a high-powered strobe light fired and just left the shutter open.  Note the doors on the motorman’s side— these were blocked when the car was made single-ended in 1955.

Out at the end of the J Line.  The girls weren’t on the trip-- they lived nearby and came out to see what was going on in their usually quiet neighborhood.



Inside the streetcar— a combination of trolley-starved Angelenos and local fans out for a fun run.

Fast forward to 2014— Muni car 1011 has been restored to double-ended operation and wears the paint job of the Market St. Railway, which was larger than Muni, and was bought out by the city in 1944.  Back in the late 1930s, MSRy had plans for a fleet of PCC cars, but never had the money to buy them.  But the “dream car” drawings were preserved, and the predecessor has been honored with this “tribute livery”.

Muni 1011 is one of ten double-ended PCC cars bought in 1948.  Seven are still running in San Francisco (during normal times), two were scrapped after severe wreck damage, and one is running at a museum near Sydney, Australia.

The next day was Sunday, and I decided to make the most of my visit by trying something new— air travel!  By flying back to LA I could spend all day riding and photographing streetcars and going home at jet speed.  I stashed my baggage at the Greyhound station locker room and explored The City.  I stopped at the PSA downtown ticket office and for $12 bought a flight to LAX.  As it grew late, I headed back to the Dog Kennel on 7th St., and bought a ticket to the airport. 

 In those days, Greyhound operated a suburban service to San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, using buses that were similar to GM transit buses but with no rear doors and all forward facing seats.  These runs stopped at street corners, and had fare boxes; they were known to the locals as “nickelsnatchers”.  The route followed part of the long-vanished #40 streetcar line on Mission St. and was long ago replaced by San Mateo County’s SamTrans service on a different route.  I retrieved my baggage, found the bus in that drafty old barn that Greyhound used in those days and was soon on my way to the aerodrome. 

 That bus station is long gone; it included a fleabag hotel above the front of the station which I used on one of my visits to MuniLand.  The bus made its way out of the station and down an alley where some of the local denizens were passing around the “short dog” or “Sneaky Pete” or maybe even the “WPLJ”.  Not the part of town they show in the tour guides.  But soon we were on our way to SFO, and arrived in the land of well-dressed people with matching luggage.  But there was a snag— the flight that I was ticketed for was annulled, and I was put on standby.  In about an hour, the next flight was called, and there was room for me.  Time to take to the skies!

  This was back in the days when the typical flight attendant was young, female and attractive.  PSA cabin crew members wore colorful outfits with short skirts and go-go boots— quite a sight for someone used to trains and buses.  But when the young lady came to collect tickets, she got very serious, and pointed out that the $12 tickets were for flights on Lockheed Electra turbo-prop planes, and the Boeing 727 we were on was $14 and change.  When I explained that the Electra flight had been cancelled and I was a standby passenger, all was well and we were ready for takeoff. 

 We bumped along the taxiway and came onto the runway.  Everyone was buckled in and when the pilot received the airborne equivalent of “Highball!” we started moving faster until we “slipped the surly bonds of earth”.  Since this was my very first flight, I had nothing to compare with, but it seemed like we got “upstairs” in a hurry.  I found an item in the seat pocket that looked interesting— it was printed on greeting card stock and it invited me to join the PSA Flying Club.  I filled it out, and added a message that this was my first experience with air travel, and I found it quite enjoyable.  This was when one of PSA’s competitors was saying things about “sweaty palms” and nervous passengers, something that didn’t apply to me.   I left the form with one of the attendants, and a few weeks later received a letter from the president of PSA thanking me for my report and hoping that I would choose PSA again. 

 After another PSA flight, I was heading for the exit at LAX and overheard two of the flight attendants: “Where’s Susie?  I haven’t seen her lately.” “Oh, she’s working the extra board.”  I thought, “Oh, great!  First the airlines take most of the railroads’ passengers, and then they borrow our terminology.

“Up in the Air Junior Birdmen!”  This is from my Sept. 1971 trip, which used Greyhound buses from Philadelphia to Chicago and Amtrak to the Bay Area.  Going back to LA I took another PSA 727 earlier in the day, giving me a parting shot of San Francisco.

Starting with my first extended trip to The City in September 1967, I went north many times.  During this period the electric streetcar service was maintained with a fleet of 105 PCC “streamliners”.  Most of them were the single-ended type, with an operator’s position at one end, and included the last PCC car built in North America, Muni 1040.  In the late 1950s, Muni retired the last of their pre-1930 cars, which were sometimes called “battleships” or “iron monsters” by the locals.  To replace the oldies, Muni acquired 70 used PCCs from St. Louis.  In the 1970s, Muni ordered some new light rail vehicles, and started to phase out the PCCs, which were starting to show their age.  The local joke was that if the shop crews ever ran out of duct tape and baling wire, it would be all over.  The new LRVs started working in the subway that had been built as part of the BART project around 1978, but Muni stayed with the PCCs for weekend operations.  Finally, in Summer of 1982, Muni decided to bring down the curtain on PCC operation and abandon the surface tracks on Market St.  Sunday, September 19 would be the end of an era. 

Saturday the 18th, I had gone to Azusa Pacific College to watch their football team play the Pomona College Sagehens.  My younger daughter, who was a student at Pomona, was in England for an overseas semester, so I decided to represent the family.  I was aware of the last run in San Francisco, but had not made serious plans to attend.  After the game, I thought, “I missed the last runs of the Pacific Electric and the LA Railway operations; I’m not going to miss this event!”  So I bought the fastest Ektachrome film I could find, packed some gear in a overnight bag, and drove my old truck to the Huntington Hotel, where I rented a car for a more comfortable journey northward.  One thing the truck lacked was a radio (I know, a comm tech with a truck with no radio is like a shoemaker running around barefoot, but that’s the way it was.)  Some of my previous trips north had been made on Amtrak’s short-lived “Spirit of California overnight train to the Bay Area and Sacramento, but as it turned out, driving up the coast was a good idea, because the radio news reported that one of the railroad unions was going out on strike, and trains would tie down at the first station stop after midnight.  I stopped for gas in San Luis Obispo, and went over to the Southern Pacific station around 1 AM, and saw Amtrak passengers being transferred to buses.

I kept on going up US 101, arriving in San Francisco shortly after sunrise.   After a full day of photographing Muni action, I went to the motel room I had booked on Mission St. and requested a wake-up call for 11 p.m.  I had to assure the room clerk that I wanted to be roused at that hour, but he said OK, and I went off to bag some ZZZs.  At 11 p.m. the phone rang, and I was ready for action.  I drove to the carbarn at Geneva and San Jose Aves. and found which car would be the last one back to the barn in a few hours.  It was car 1108, one of the second-hand PCCs from St. Louis, and it would be on the N line, which goes out to the beach on Judah St. (named after Theodore Judah, the engineer who found a route through Donner Pass for the original trans-continental railway.)

Now knowing which car to catch, I took a K line car to East Bay Terminal and waited for 1108 to show up.  I boarded it, and as I had done many times before, rode out Market St. to Duboce, where the N line branches off near the US Mint, what I call Uncle Sam’s Money Bin.  Then it was out on Duboce and through the Sunset Tunnel into the Inner Sunset neighborhood.  A few turns, and we were on Judah St.  But we didn’t go directly to the beach.  Our operator decided to make this trip even more historic.  When we got to the turnback wye at 30th Ave. he had one of the passengers set the switch that sent our car into the stub track, which was usually used to get a car turned to go back downtown.  But we pulled in, and the operator turned off the interior lights.  We were going to lay low until chartered car 1006, with a load of railfans went by.  We waited for the other car to return from the end of the line and then backed out onto Judah St. making 1108 the last PCC to run on the N line.

It’s what Frank Sinatra would call “The Wee Small Hours” of September 20, 1982, and the last scheduled PCC car to run on the N line is ready to head back to the barn.  There’s a nearby motel where I have stayed on a number of visits to The City— you can roll out of bed in the morning and start tramspotting.

We made our way back to Geneva Car House, where 1108 was tied down for what we thought was the last PCC to run in MuniLand.  That turned out to be a mistaken assumption but it’s getting late, so we’ll leave with one more photo from that memorable night.

This is Chris, who gets photo credit for the shot at the top of the story.  She was a nurse, working the night shift at a local hospital, and saw a TV news item about the last run.  Not a railfan, but just someone who wanted to be part of history.

For those not familiar with streetcar terminology, the PCC car was a valiant attempt by the electric railway industry to win back passengers who had forsaken the conventional streetcars of the 1920s and even older for automobiles.  PCC is short for Presidents’ Conference Committee, a group of railway presidents who got together and assembled an engineering team to design the next generation of streetcars.  One observer commented that this is one of the few times in human history that a committee came up with something useful.  The team developed a car with a streamlined body, smooth acceleration and braking, and comfortable seats.  The first PCC went into service in Brooklyn in 1936, and some of the more modern PCC cars are still running in San Francisco, Boston, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Others are preserved at railway museum; I got my first PCC ride at what was then Orange Empire Trolley Museum (which has been mentioned in earlier columns.)

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