Amber Jones operates a cable car along the California route on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Jones is the third female cable car gripman in the 143-year history of San Francisco's cable cars. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco native becomes third-ever female cable car gripman

It’s Women’s History Month, and in one small corner of San Francisco, Amber Jones, 34, is herself making history.

Certified just last week, Jones is the third-ever woman cable car gripman in the line’s 143 years of operation.

The grip on a cable car is unique from the conductor. While conductors are in the rear, it’s the gripman who operates the various hand and foot controls that propel and stop the 15,500-pound iconic vehicles.

Jones started as a Muni operator in 2008 on various bus lines. Cable cars are a whole new animal, though.

While strength is important in operating the heavy levers of the century-old vehicles, Jones said it’s more about “technique.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency describes the job as “demanding and unforgiving,” requiring arm, hand and upper body strength, as well as mental and physical coordination.

The gripman’s main control is a metal lever at the front of the cable car. When pulled, hinges fastened to the lever and are forced by rollers to smoothly tighten two semi-cylindrical dies against the cable, in a vise-like grip, according to the Cable Car Museum of San Francisco.

Once gripped, the cable car starts moving. Now, Jones will do that every day.

“Amber is a role model for women in public service,” said Mayor Ed Lee in a statement.

SFMTA hires third woman gripman in over a century from The San Francisco Examiner on Vimeo.

Jones is a San Francisco native, who attended Terra Nova High School in Pacifica. She’s a fan of The Warriors “of course” she said, but “LeBron James is my guy.” Jones has a 17-year-old son who is about to graduate from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School. According to the SFMTA, this also marks the first time two women will be a grip on the lines at the same time, as Jones will join cable car’s second woman grip, Willa Johnson, in service. Fannie Barnes, the first woman to serve as a Cable Car grip, retired in 2002.

When asked what her first day felt like, Jones simply said, “It was great. I thought I’d be more nervous than I was.”

“I’m a goofball,” she said, and that helps her connect with the many passengers who ride The City’s cable cars each day.

She smiled wide, laughed, and said, “I like to show people how fun San Francisco is.”Cable CarsSFMTATransitWomen’s History Month

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