Cable Car Museum
Location: San Francisco, CA (1201 Mason St.)
When to visit: Open 10-6 everyday (10-5 from November through March)
Time needed: 30-45 minutes
It’s funny how you can be familiar with something without ever stopping to think how it works.
I first heard about the cable cars in San Francisco years ago. Every time I visit the city I am intrigued by these old-time vehicles. But I never really contemplated how the cars operate.
It’s right there in the name, of course: Cable cars. These trolleys are pulled by underground wire cables using a pulley system with cables that run continuously at 9.5 miles per hour.
Most mass transit vehicles today operate on gas power, while some even use electric. But San Francisco’s cable cars still use the old-fashioned method of power: sheer brute force. At the Cable Car Museum, you can walk out onto a viewing deck to the see the machinery in action, and you can view historic photos and artifacts.
Here’s the oldest cable car in history!
It’s Clay Street Railroad Car #8. This is the only surviving car from the original 1873 fleet, which means it is in fact the oldest remaining cable car in the world.
The Cable Car Museum itself isn’t very large, but it’s free, so you’re getting your money’s worth. Main highlight #1 is the viewing deck where visitors can see the giant gears actually cranking those cables.
Highlight #2 is a series of exhibits that tell the history of the city’s cable cars and the routes around the city.
The information is fascinating. You’ll learn that there are currently 40 cable cars in the San Francisco system. A max of 26 are in use at any one time. The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cars cannot be turned around; when they reach the end of the line, a turntable spins the cars around to head back in the opposite direction. The California Street cars, meanwhile, can run in either direction.
You can purchase gifts and trinkets like toy cable cars to commemorate your visit.