For 52 years, San Francisco’s historic cable car bells have musically rung as Muni operators compete to be top bell ringer.
And for 52 years, those competitors have all been men.
Now, at the 53rd cable car bell ringing contest, the first woman, cable car conductor Cassandra Griffin, will clang to compete.
“No woman has ever done it, and that is true,” Griffin said.
Three of the contestants she’ll ring her bell against are former winners and “really, really, really good,” she said, adding, “I’m not that good, but I’ll try.”
She will join Joseph Sue, Ignacio Sandoval, Leonard Oats, Singh Rai and Trini Whittaker to challenge six-year bell ringing champion Byron Cobb.
No props, electronic devices or additional accompaniment are allowed, according to SFMTA, and contestants must be in Muni uniform.
The idea, SFMTA said, “is to recreate the atmosphere of an operator in service.”
Operators are judged on rhythm, originality and style by a bevy of local notables, from San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White to the locally famous Sir Francis Drake doorman Tom Sweeney.
Griffin said she’s long practiced her bells and worked for Muni for 15 years, three of which she spent driving a bus.
She’s a San Francisco native and went to Balboa High School. She now lives in Richmond, with her 12-year-old daughter. Her son, 23, lives in San Francisco.
Now a cable car conductor, Griffin said she was urged to enter the bell ringing contest to further women’s place in Muni’s history. She’s especially proud that she and her friend, cable car grip Willa Johnson, were the only female crew to ever work a cable car.
The ringers will compete at Union Square at noon today.