Sunday, September 4, 2016

Streetcar Wars of San Francisco History, Vol. III

Before the Google Bus, there was the balloon car...

A San Francisco invention, the "balloon cars" of the Sutter Street Railroad could be rotated on their own chassis, allowing them to turn around more easily. Unfortunately they could also be easily run off the rails, as the story below indicates. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library).

San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1877



“Our Boys” residing in the vicinity of Hayes and Market streets have organized and harmonized themselves without distinction of creed, color or previous condition of servitude into an important party, the shibboleth of which is underlying enmity to the drivers of the balloon cars of the Sutter-street railway running along Larkin street. ...

The boys appear to divide themselves into regular strata of “pure cussedness.” At the corner of Hayes, Ninth, and Market streets they modestly content themselves with having so artfully laid a train of misleading rocks from the legitimate track that the driver is never awakened to his responsibilities till he drives his steeds half into the front balcony where a Larkin-street young lady is entertaining her young man.

Having backed out with profuse apologies he continues his frequently interrupted course to the corner of Grove street. There the boys change the programme by pelting him with stones. The only objection that can be made to the boys at this corner is that they are remarkably bad shots, and that every rock, well intended to do for the driver, shivers a window and scatters shattered glass rather promiscuously and dangerously among the passengers.

At Fulton street a low whitewashing investigating committee of three usually jumps aboard, and when the attention of the driver is distracted by some one of his numerous duties, one of the Committee rings the bell and they then all jump off and laugh at the driver for stopping to let off a supposed passenger.

The drivers have done all in their power to counteract this evil. They have laden the fronts of their conveyances with cobbles till they looked like Trojan war chariots, and they fired the said cobbles at the hoodlums with remarkable wickedness, it is true, but with distinguished ill success.

Individual drivers have been so enthused with the war as to leave horse, car and passengers on the track, and start out for a several blocks’ chase of supposed culprit. They have invariably returned with some good little boy who was just going home from an adjacent letter-box, or a contiguous grocery, whither he had been sent on an important errand, and being bound to let all these go, the assistance of the police is respectfully asked.

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