Ask anyone what they associate San Francisco with and usually the answer is the Golden Gate Bridge. The lesser mentioned attraction is the humble cable car yet it is an intrinsic part of the history of San Francisco to the present day. If you think carefully, you would not be able to name a film that had been set in San Francisco that didn’t have mention of the cable car!
While on your holidays in San Francisco ask yourself - How did the cable car come to exist? Story has it that it’s inventor, Andrew Smith Hallidie saw a gruesome accident where the steepness of the roads, wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle could roll backwards and literally drag the horses to their death.
While there is no room for a full lesson on how the cable cars work, the basis lies that there are powerful electric motors that drive wheels that pull cables through a trench in the street below, centred under the cable tracks. Each car then has a mechanical grip that will latch itself onto the rope where the grips man can take or drop the rope depending on whether he has a need to start or stop the car operated by a grip man. Running along the lines, they do come to an end where they are turned around on a giant turntable; the public could help with this manoeuvre until the 1970’s came and the health and safety act!
Driving the trams is a highly skilled and labour intensive job where need for good co-ordination is a must. Because of this intensity, there have only been 2 grip women to this date, namely Fannie Mae Barnes and Willa Johnson. Maybe a reader of this blog will accept the challenge and become the 3rd ?
Interestingly, the famous social activist Maya Angelou once worked on the cable cars herself; she even dropped out of her school at the tender age of 15 to do it. She also set the records as the first African-American to work for the transport company, despite the jibes and taunts of the management as integration was still very much a new way of thinking.
Nearly destroyed totally by the earthquake of 1906, it remains in operation today as the world’s last manually operated cable car system and is in the History Books as an icon of historic places. It is a must for any trip to San Francisco (if anything because the hills are a lot more challenging than they look in the city!).
Fancy knowing a bit more after riding this moving monument? There is a comprehensive cable car museum located in San Francisco where you can learn all about this fascinating transport system.