Cable Car Conductors George Brandley at Left and Jesse Blair at Right Photographed with Cable Car 501, later renumbered as car 28, at Washington Mason Car House

SF donating original 1880s cable car to Connecticut museum

San Francisco’s cable cars have been said to climb halfway to the stars, but now one of The City’s original roving landmarks is journeying to Connecticut instead.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Board of Directors is set to vote today on donating the 131-year-old Cable Car No. 28 to the Shore Line Trolley Museum of East Haven, Connecticut.

It’s the first cable car San Francisco has donated to a museum in two decades, said Rick Laubscher, a local transit historian and president of the Market Street Railway nonprofit.

“She’s still going to be there to entertain and provide a little glimpse of San Francisco to people on the opposite coast,” Laubscher said.

The SFMTA performed an assessment of the cable car and found it too deteriorated to remain in active service, according to an agency staff report. Cable Car No. 28 was retired from active passenger service in 2000, after 113 years in operation. SFMTA commissioned a new Cable Car No. 28 to replace it in 2004, which remains in service today.

Under The City charter, the SFMTA Board of Directors must vote to approve any equipment transfers of vehicles more than 25 years old.

Cable Car No. 28 was originally built in 1887 by the Mahoney Bros., who built many of San Francisco’s original cable cars for the Powell/Mason line. When first constructed Cable Car No. 28 was christened numbered car 544, later renumbered No. 501, and finally renumbered 28 in 1973.

If the move is approved, the Shore Line Trolley Museum will arrange to pick up Cable Car No. 28 “at its own expense,” according to an SFMTA staff report, which will free up space in the SFMTA Marin Yard for new buses.

The deal isn’t a straight donation, either — it’s a part of a deal for two streetcars.

In 2017 the SFMTA purchased two streetcars (which set themselves apart from cable cars by drawing electricity from power lines above the street) for its historic fleet for $196,000 from the Connecticut museum, according to an SFMTA staff report, but as part of the deal the museum also asked for Cable Car No. 28 to be donated.

One of those cars hails from Philadelphia, Laubscher said. It was built in 1922, according to the Shore Line Museum.

“They have to be restored but you can’t find these anymore,” Laubscher said. “They’re very valuable, and very hard to find.”

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