Cable Car Museum


I think I love this museum because it’s really small and intense. You can walk it in about 5 minutes. At the corner of Mason and Washington, where all cable car lines meet, are these large sheaves- pronounced “shivs”- that keep the cable lines constantly running. Another great thing is that it’s so loud you’re overwhelmed by the noise and can’t hear anyone talk. It also smells of metal. FREE! Go downstairs to see how the lines work underground- they have clear panels to the underground sheaves. The interpretation is a little long winded and technical- not for kids- but everything is obvious and visual when you get there. I brought two kids- age 5 and 9- and afterwards, on the street, tried to find the “arm” that grabs the cable from beneath the car, and to see the running live wire in the middle strip. I have to say the concept of how the cable car worked never really hit home until I visited the museum and saw it in action.
Another tidbit: Hallidie, the guy who invented the cable car, did it because he pitied the horses that climbed the steep hills. Also, horse manure was a big issue. No shit. Ha ha. From the site:

“[the] rail system was conceived in 1869, after witnessing horses being whipped while they struggled on the wet cobblestones to pull a horsecar up Jackson Street.”

This may blow your mind: a map of the cable car line coverage in its peak, 1890.

4 Comments so far

  1. Nancy McClure (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

    Oh, how I wish that was a current BART map!

  2. Ashley Nichols (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

    We love San Francisco’s cable cars – a lot slower than the *BART* but a lot more fun too.

  3. Davidk (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

    That Cable Car Museum web site has a great optical illusion on it: the moving cable looks like it forms a slight angle with the horizontal axis.

  4. n judah chronicles (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

    What’s really sad is that when people voted to “save” the cable car system in the 50s, they really voted to kill most of it and keep only what we have left….sorta like how they killed the electric rail network for “trackless trolleys” which were supposed to be so much better….and for all of us who’ve ridden a herky jerky Muni bus can attest to that!

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