Thursday, May 27, 2021

Trolley Thursday 5/27/21 - The Sacramento Northern Railway

In the process of reading this blog closely, you may remember from Tuesday that the San Francisco Transbay Terminal opened with three tenants in 1939: the Key System, the Interurban Electric Railway (IER), and the Sacramento Northern (SN). This third tenant ran only one train into San Francisco, but don’t let that fool you. At 183 miles, the SN was the largest interurban system in northern California, sprawling from Oakland to Sacramento and farther north into the Central Valley. Like many interurbans, of course, the SN was doomed to end rather quickly but, during its lifetime, the company proved itself a paragon of interurban freight under its parent company, Western Pacific (WP), enough to entrench itself in historical legend. On today's Trolley Thursday, let's take a trip along the Sacramento Northern as we look back on its history and what it left behind.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 5/25/21 - The San Francisco Transbay Terminal

Hello, dear readers and passengers! If you are reading this post, chances are I'm suffering the side-effects of my second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. As always, I want to tell you all to please remain healthy and safe as the country returns to normal, and be smart with your health.

Now with that out of the way... San Francisco's Salesforce Transit Center is a rather polarizing building in the city's history. Despite being designed as an ultramodern multi-modal hub for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Muni's bus system, and the northern terminal of the eventual California High Speed Rail (CAHSR), the building has had a shaky construction and opening as it spent most of its first year in operation closed due to structural concerns. While many new transit advocates both support the Salesforce Transit Center, or denigrate its organic architecture, almost all old San Franciscan souls lament the loss of what was there before, the original San Francisco Transbay Terminal. Despite being one of the most modern buildings in the city when it opened in 1939, the loss of its three major commuter rail tenants rendered the building redundant in only 20 years and limping into the 21st Century. On today's Trolley Tuesday, let's look at the history of a building way ahead of its time, but quickly left behind once the trolleys stopped running.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Trolley Thursday 5/20/21 - The San Francisco, Napa, & Calistoga Railway

Occasionally on Twice-Weekly Trolley History, we end up finding a rather obscure railroad where information is sometimes hard to come by, so before we start I'd like to thank the close readers who scan through our writing and always help us improve our journalistic merit. I raise a glass to you all... just like I raise a glass to today's wine-country trolley! We may already be familiar with the Napa Valley Wine Train, a lunch and dinner rail service operated as a rolling luxury restaurant, but before that train came another that bore the "NAPA VALLEY" banner with pride. Despite a short and redundant lifespan, the San Francisco, Napa & Calistoga serves as another important and nostalgic chapter in East Bay interurban history, from its oddly-electrified cars to its humble and quiet end.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 5/18/21 - The Northwestern Pacific Railway

Today, the Northwestern Pacific Railway (NWP) that runs between Sonoma and Marin County is but a shadow of its former glory, originally encompassing almost 300 miles from San Francisco Bay's North Shore and up the Northern California Coast to Eureka and other connecting points north and east. While it is now characterized as a sleepy little ex-Southern Pacific (SP) subsidiary, the railway was once home to one of the most forward-thinking and futuristic electric railway systems ever conceived in America. Featuring unheard-of qualities like third-rail operations and alternating current signal systems, the NWP was a victim of redundancy and soon faded from history to the tune of snorting steam locomotives and growling diesels. On today's Trolley Tuesday, let's take a ride on the Redwood Empire Route as we uncover what happened to NWP's interurban lines.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Trolley Thursday 5/13/21 - The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue

Just like most of its national and international history, America's electric railroad history is not free from the spoils and sins of war. Most wars in electric railway circles, like the quiet Cold War of the United Railroads vs. San Francisco or the intense bureaucratic battles of Chicago's Cable Car wars, are fought rather bloodlessly, usually coming down to bidding for street franchises. However, in a quiet corner of Sonoma County just 30 miles North of San Francisco, one notable clash between interurbans and steam railroads tuned swiftly violent with mud, rocks, and pre-heated boiler water as the weapons of choice. And now, dear passengers, don your helmets, lace up your boots, and grab a ballast rock to sling because, on today's Trolley Thursday, we're going to war over a frog!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 5/11/21 - The Cars of the Key System

From its opening day on October 26, 1903, until the end of passenger rail service on April 20, 1958, the Key System always stood out from other interurban railroads through its fleet of varied and unique cars that were all built to meet the demands of this Bay Area institution. This iconic fleet ranged from the electrified horsecars, which introduced modern electric traction in Oakland and Berkeley, to the modern articulated interurban cars whose designs informed the light rail vehicles (LRVs) we know today. For today's Trolley Tuesday, let's look back on these iconic cars and get to know them just a little better, shall we?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Trolley Thursday 5/6/21 - The Key System

In the annals of East Bay history, no other names holds as much legend and iconic imagery as Oakland's Key System. Developed as yet another interurban real estate scheme, the eight lines of the Key System helped to develop much of East Oakland and Berkeley. The Key System maintained its dominant position in East Pay transit after the opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and widespread adoption of the automobile. Unfortunately, much like its contemporaries in Los Angeles, El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, the Key System fell victim to the same machinations that brought down dominant private interurbans like it in the form of the infamous National City Lines. On today's Trolley Thursday, let's hop aboard a Bridge Unit and rediscover the rich history of one of America's iconic street railways.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 5/4/21 - The Southern Pacific's East Bay Electric Lines

Once again, welcome to another new month of Trolleyposts by your conductor and your motorman! This month, we're still in the Bay Area but we're now crossing the Bay Bridge to get to the East Bay cities of Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley. Long before this massive bridge was here, the East Bay was full of streetcar lines that were, eventually, replaced by the now-familiar Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the Bay Bridge. On today's Trolley Tuesday, we start our journey off in Oakland as we look at the Southern Pacific Railroad's other interurban holding, the Oakland, Alameda & Berkeley Lines. Of course, in hindsight, we now know this as the East Bay Electrics (EBE) and who knows? We might even see some familiar faces along the way!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Trolley Thursday 3/29/21 - San Francisco's Cable Cars in Film and Television

There are two things certain in life whenever the city of San Francisco is established in a film: the appearance of the Golden Gate Bridge and the familiar "clang-clang" of a cable car. In the 148 years since the establishment of the Clay Street Hill Railway, San Francisco's once-revolutionary cable cars are as much a part of the city identity as Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf, and Lombard Street. Hollywood studios have since caught on to the cable car's inextricable link to the city identity, so much that if a film is set anywhere near San Francisco, there's bound to be the familiar "clang-clang" and clatter of a passing cable car, even if they don't appear! On the last Trolley Tuesday of April, let's look back on the film cameos of these wonderful little cable cars! (And by no means is this an exhaustive list, just some films I find interesting that are worth checking out.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 4/27/21 - The Modern Market Street Railway

Modern city transit systems are usually not obligated to contain a heritage streetcar line; after all, they're just there to keep the city on the move. However, there are some certain specific exceptions to that rule, whether it's bringing out old equipment on modern lines for excursion services like Chicago or New York, or keeping old lines operating just "as-is" as long as the spares are there like Boston. San Francisco is no different to the art of the heritage streetcar, but it might as well be both the prototype and the codifier on how to do it for the rest of the world. The interplay between tourist trolley and viable transport is on full display on today's San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni for short), and nowhere is that more evident than through the non-profit organization that keeps the city's historic streetcars running: the Market Street Railway Foundation. On today's Trolley Tuesday, let's see just how the Fabulous F Market and the Exciting E Embarcadero keep history rolling on the street tracks!