Cable Car bell ringing contest dings Thursday

Ken Lunardi practices before the 2012 Cable Car Bell Ringing Competition. Photo by Heather Moran/SFMTA Photographer

The familiar “ding, ding, ding!” of The City’s iconic cable cars will soon echo downtown more musically than usual.

That’s because Thursday at noon the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will host the 52nd annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, where eight Muni cable car conductors and grips will flex their musical skills for a bevy of local judges.

SFMTA will park a motorized cable car at Union Square, where the contestants will vie to win.

“This competition is a Muni tradition that dates back to 1955,” said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA’s director of transportation, in a statement.

“Over those 60 years several grips and conductors have been crowned champion — and a select few have taken the crown more than once. This year we’ll witness three past champions meld physicality, rhythm and improvisation for a chance at their third or fourth crown.”

One of those contestants is Ken Lunardi, a 35-year Muni employee nicknamed “Mr. Grip” by his colleagues, according to the SFMTA, because of his “bone-crushing” handshake.

Lunardi’s lost track of how many Cable Car bell-ringing contest appearances he’s made, but for the Muni vet, this year will be his last before retirement. Lunardi is a third generation Muni driver, the SFMTA wrote, dating back to both his paternal and maternal grandfathers.

“Not every bell is the same, you have to play according to the bell,” Lunardi told the SFMTA.

The judges are local notables, including KRON host of “People Behaving Badly” Stanley Roberts, SFFD Chief Joanne Hayes-White, Sir Francis Drake Hotel doorman Tom Sweeney, Shay Diddy of KMEL, SFPD Commander Ann Mannix, and others.
The top three contestants will bring home the bell-ringing trophies.

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