Old 08-01-2008, 10:10 PM Offline   #1 (permalink)

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Default Gallery: San Francisco Cable Cars Still Humming on 19th-Century Tech

</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comSAN FRANCISCO -- More than a century after their invention, cable cars still carry passengers up and over this city's hills.
The picturesque mode of transport narrowly escaped extinction after the 1906 earthquake, which devastated the city as well as the cable car barn and tracks. New tracks were laid and the system was rebuilt -- despite the advent of more cost-effective electric streetcars -- partially due to cable cars' superior ability to climb the steepest hills in San Francisco.
Cable cars again faced extinction and persevered again in 1947, when San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham proclaimed that the lines should be removed in favor of buses. Thankfully, a campaign led by San Francisco's social elite saved the cars. Today, people come from all over the world to experience a ride on the tried-and-true cable cars, first tested 135 years ago today.
Left: Cable car No, 20 of the Powell-Hyde line crests the hill on Taylor Street, fully loaded with passengers, against the backdrop of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comRufus Bennett, a veteran cable car operator and gripman of "28 years and 7 months," transports passengers from the Powell Street turnaround to Fisherman's Wharf. According to Bennett, a trip on a San Francisco cable car is more than just a ride for the tourists who come from all over the world: It's an experience. "Today is the best day of my life," said Bennett, who clearly loves his job. "I've been through thousands of Thursdays but I ain't never been here before."
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comThe winding wheels of the historic Washington-Mason cable car barn and powerhouse feed the approximately 58,000 feet of cable that runs cars on the city's three lines. The cable, composed of a hemp core wrapped in wires, zips unseen below ground at 9 mph. The cable cars grip the cable and are towed up and down the steep hills of San Francisco, carrying daily commuters and tourists alike to destinations around city.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comThe central control panel monitors "strand alarms" for all four cables that run under the city's streets. The alarm warns of a possible damaged cable. While the vintage panel appears at first glance to be straight out of 1930, it was actually installed during a 1984 overhaul of the system. "The system is designed to be relatively simple. and there's no reason to complicate it," said Wesley Valaris, a former gripman who now trains a new generation of operators.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comUrsula and Link Wolsram of Stuttgart, Germany, take in the sights and nearly deafening sounds at the Cable Car Museum, housed in the Washington-Mason powerhouse.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comA coil of used cable awaits its fate in the cable car barn. The wear from the grips and dies of the cable cars clearly shows in its glossy appearance, just like a used brake pad would on your car.
The cable generally needs to be replaced after anywhere from 100 to 250 days of use. The process takes around five hours, as new cable is attached to an end of the old cable and pulled through the system, with used cable recoiling around another spindle.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comBeneath each cable car lies one of the most essential mechanisms of the whole operation: the grip (at this angle, appearing to the right of and above the cable). The grip is hidden below the street and the cable passes through its center.
When the gripman is ready to move the cable car forward, he closes the jaws of the grip slowly around the moving cable, accelerating relatively smoothly to the cruising speed of 9 mph. When the gripman is ready to slow the cable car, he slowly releases his hold on the cable, allowing the cable to slip through the jaws of the grip. To completely stop the car, he allows the cable to glide completely free through the grip, then steps on the brake.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comThe cable car barn houses the entire fleet of San Francisco's cable cars. The city operates 28 single-ended cars on the Powell Street lines and 12 double-ended cars on the California Street line.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comThe gift shop in the Cable Car Museum is alluring to tourists of all ages, with its colorful baubles and picturesque postcards that commemorate a visit to Fog City.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comA heavenly ride on San Francisco's famous cable cars attracts riders of all ages, nationalities and occupations.
</img>: Photo: Emily Lang/Wired.comA Powell Street car makes one of its last runs of the night near Union Square, delivering tourists back to their hotels. The cable cars run until after midnight some days.


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