Keeping San Francisco’s cable cars in top form


A lot of work goes into constantly repairing and rebuilding San Francisco’s most recognizable and iconic rolling landmarks.

From handcrafting each wooden piece of a cable car to putting it back together by hand, carpenters can take up to 18 months to refurbish aging cars for public use, said Ed Cobean, senior operations manager of the Cable Car Division.

SFBay was given a tour of the cable car carpentry shop on Tuesday in The City’s Dogpatch neighborhood, where crews repair cable cars to get them spiffed up for the tourists.

On Wednesday, carpenters worked two cable cars inside the shop. Built in 1898 and rebuilt in 1970, Carpenters were working to complete an inspection of Cable Car Number 23, said Cobean:

“More likely the car will probably be around 50 to 75 percent of a complete rebuild.”

Other cars though like Cable Car Number 56, built in 1913 and rebuilt in 1984, will need a complete rebuild, which could take up to 18 months to complete, said Cobean.

He added that each piece inside car number 56 was handmade in the shop:

“Every single wood component inside the car is being rebuilt by hand and everything that is made here in-house.”

Even without the two cable cars in the shop, Muni Heritage this weekend will still feature some historic cars.

The event will feature Cable Car Number 42 — a special doubled ended cable car built in 1906 — that served the O’Farrell, Jones and Hyde line, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Cable Number 42 will make a special appearance this weekend along the California Cable Car line. Passengers who want to ride on this specific cable car will need to pay the regular cable car fare of $7.

The original nine cable cars will also be running with special livery schemes and run on the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines.

President and CEO of the nonprofit Market Street Railway Rick Laubscher said San Francisco’s cable cars have made in The City since at least 1888:

“Look around the Muni system you see dozens of cable cars that still survive today dating right before the turn of the 20th century — all built in San Francisco.”

Historic streetcars and old Muni buses will also be available at the Muni Heritage event either to ride for free or on display near the San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop at 77 Steuart Street.

The event runs this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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