Cable Cars in San Francisco


San Francisco's Famous Cable Cars

Written by Scott Messmore

It's hard to think of San Francisco without conjuring an image of a clanking cable car crawling its way up a steep city street. One of the city's most popular tourist attractions, cable cars are still used as a functioning part of the San Francisco transit system, if even on a small scale. Cable cars were the brainchild of Andrew Hallidie, who came to America in 1852 from Great Britain. One damp and cold day in 1869, Hallidie was watching a five-horse team pull a heavy street car up one of San Francisco's steep hills. One horse lost its footing on the slick pavement and the weight of the street car dragged the horse team down the hill, killing them all. Hallidie's father had earned a patent in Great Britain for manufacturing wire rope. Hallidie had applied the technology to gold mining after he arrived in California. Hallidie designed systems to haul rock ore in mining camps and quickly made the connection between the death of the street car horse teams and the power of metal cable.

Hallidie's Pride

By 1873, the first cable car began service with the Clay Street line. The cable cars were an immediate hit and eventually 600 cars were ferrying San Franciscans around 120 miles of city streets. The Great Quake of 1906 nearly destroyed the entire city and many lines were never rebuilt. Tourists can still hitch a ride with nearly 40 cars that travel on 10 miles of railway. Cable cars are individually created works that are maintained by skilled carpenters and repairman. San Francisco citizens have fought several battles to make sure cable cars weren't totally replaced with modern transportation. Visitors can board the cars at stops or jump on and hold onto a railing while the cars bump along up and down San Francisco's famous hills.

San Francisco's Treat

The present cable car system underwent a complete overhaul that took two years in the early 1980s. Now, the Powell-Hyde line runs from Powell and Market Streets to the Hyde Street Pier at Fisherman's Wharf. The Powell Mason line travels over Nob Hill to Bay Street and also stops at the Fisherman's Wharf. The California line starts at California Street and makes its way through the financial district and Chinatown to Van Ness Avenue. For a historic look at cable car history and an up-close look at how the cable systems actually work, a visit to the Cable Car Barn & Powerhouse is in order. The great steel wheels and cables that pull cable cars from underneath the street are in plain view at the 1201 Mason Street museum. The Cable Car Museum is open every day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Cable Car Fares

Fares are collected by cable car conductors or tickets can be bought at turn around spots. One way trips for adults and children cost $2. Three different passes are also available: one for $6; three days for $10 and seven day passes for $15. Cable cars run every day from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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