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Veteran cable car operator wins eighth bell ringing championship

San Francisco cable car operator Byron Cobb still has the magic hands.

As tourists passed through Union Square and in front of past champions, Cobb won his eighth championship title at the 55th annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest Thursday,

The 36-year Muni operator veteran claimed his previous titles in 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005 2015 and 2017. Cobb told SFBay he took a nine-year break after he won in 2005 because other operators did not want to compete against him.

Cobb has been with the Cable Car Division for 29 of the 36 years he has been with Muni.

Cobb said he felt good winning his eighth title:

“I’ve still got it.”

Asked if he would pass the 10-time cable car bell running champ Carl Payne, Cobb instead hinted at retirement.

Cobb said:

“No, I will not pass Carl Payne because I’m getting close to my retirement. I’m not going to say when but I might play one more year, but that’s definitely it.”

Cobbs went home with a a gigantic trophy and bragging rights over his competitors. Second and third place winners received cash prizes and other goodies such as Ghirardelli chocolates.

Coming in second and third, respectively, was Cable car grip person and four-time champion Leonard Oats and cable car conductor Thomas Leal. Oats and Leal have a combined 36 years of cable car experience.

All contestants were judged on originality, style and rhythm. This year’s judges included some familiar names, including San Francisco Chronicle columnists Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub. Last year, both rode every Muni line throughout San Francisco in one day.

Other guest judges this year included KTVU traffic and anchor Sal Castaneda and Jennifer de Grassi Williams, who won the of Miss Cable Car title in 1968.

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