Friday, January 25, 2008
Cable Cars...torrential rains cause brake malfunction, near fatality with pedestrian. San Francisco!
This morning - amid wild storms slamming the Bay area - I was waiting for a Cable Car in the Financial District, when I spied a utility truck towing one of the little darlings down the street to the repair yard, I guess.
As the torrential rains persisted, I stood under a stoop to shield myself from the wintry blast that descended upon San Francisco in the wee hours of dawn this morning.
In about five minutes, a second trolley approached, and I jumped on.
The car was packed with tourists and there was a lot of excited chit-chat about the inclement weather. And, of course, bearing witness to the broken-down cable car was cause for a few to tense up a little about the possibility of a second mishap.
As we approached Powell Street - the operator suddenly pulled on the brake - but it malfunctioned, causing the car to jerk unexpectedly and lurch forward.
To our great shock, the vehicle came to an abrupt, shaky halt, within inches of striking an elderly woman crossing the street!
The exasperated driver proceeded to struggle with the gears, to get us going, but to no avail.
As one passenger noted, "Rain and wood brakes on steel track, that's the problem."
At this juncture, it was obvious the trolley was disabled, so the driver was forced to radio in for assistance.
Meanwhile, the upset passengers exited the car in a state of disarray, and sought other avenues of travel.
Ironically, it was an accident many years ago which brought about the conception of the cable system, as we've come to know it.
The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system was attributed to a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a damp summer day in 1869.
Andrew Smith Hallidie saw the toll slippery grades caused when the then, horse-drawn streetcars, slid backwards under their heavy load. On at least one occasion, the steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. The incident triggered an idea.
Hallidie and his partners not only had the know-how to do something about the problem, but the wherewithal to meet the challenge.
You see, Hallidie's father held the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire-rope.
So, as a young man, Hallidie experimented and found uses for the technology in California's Gold Country. He used the wire-rope in a design for a suspension bridge across Sacramento's American River, for instance. He also facilitated the wire-rope to pull heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks.
Clearly, the technology was in place for cable car use.
So, Hallidie acted on his vision, and developed it into a full-blown cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco's fearsome hills and unpredictable weather.
Now, if only some clever person could fathom a way to overcome the difficulties with the brakes in stormy weather, before some innocent bystander gets killed.