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San Francisco's 40-line
"San Mateo Interurban Car--Minimum Fare 10¢"

By Walter Rice Ph.D. and Emiliano Echeverria

The authors wish to dedicate this article to Rudy Brandt--transportation historian, friend and one of the last living 40-line motormen--whose vivid memories of the San Mateo Interurban have enriched this text.

The night was chilly, but the mood was festive for a funeral. It was Saturday, January 15, 1949, and scores had gathered across from the Southern Pacific's San Mateo station at Third Avenue and B Streets. The event was to witness and ride to San Francisco the last cars of San Francisco Municipal Railway's (Muni) route number 40 streetcar, the twenty-one-mile long San Mateo Interurban.

The funeral cortege consisted of the last revenue car No. 1241 in Muni's blue and yellow paint scheme that the railway had introduced in 1939. Car No. 1235, a "railfan special" painted in Muni's postwar green and cream wings design, followed. 

San Mateo's 5,000 watt radio station KVSM considered the demise important enough to send two reporters to chronicle the last trips. August Stokes was the motorman on No. 1241. Stokes, Muni's only veteran of the Spanish American War, had worked on the 40 for twenty-six years. When asked by the radio reporter for his thoughts, Stokes replied without a tone of remorse in his voice, "Don't like them to take it off." Conductor Frank Pattee, with a quarter century of 40-line service, told the radio audience "it was a swell run." 

Mrs. Harrington of Burlingame imparted that Pattee was her "favorite conductor, the best one who had been on the line, so courteous and nice." She gave him a big kiss. Harrington gleefully also had informed everyone when she boarded No. 1241 that "as a little girl" she rode the first car to San Mateo in 1903. With a clang of the bell and Pattee's cry of "goodbye," No. 1241 left San Mateo forever leaving only, as the KVSM announcer intoned, "the special charter line of the railfans" in its wake.

Excited railfans were eager to denounce the folly of the abandonment. The railfans quickly surrounded the radio announcer upon his boarding of the special. "It has the potential for rapid transit." "A sad affair," "You can't even smoke on buses." The sole counter comment came from a sarcastic Francis Guido, a San Mateo lawyer, founder and long time publisher of The Western Railroader. Guido stated that it was a "sad shame it has to go out, but it's something everyone wanted, wasn't it?" He was soundly booed.

However, Guido accurately mirrored the temper of the times. As America's streetcar and interurban mileage shrunk few complained. To the majority "progress" had been served. This was the era when streetcars were regarded as an obsolete mode of transport. The public and most of the railfans knew that such abandonments were part of the natural economic order. 

For the railfans aboard No. 1235 a source of excitement was the night's unusual routing. It was to be different from any prior 40-line routing. Cars on their last trip would operate directly to Muni's streetcar cemetery, Funston Yard, on Lincoln Way. Once in San Francisco, No. 1235 and all 40-cars that fateful night, after stopping at the Geneva barn, would head down Mission Street (1235 would be the last streetcar on Mission Street) to 2nd Street, 2nd to Market Street, and then west on Market Street to Eddy, over the Eddy Street trackage of the 31-line to Divisadero, and then over parts of abandoned tracks of the 20, 7 and 17 lines on Divisadero, Oak, Stanyan, Frederick and Lincoln Way to reach Funston Yard.

Early Sunday morning arrived and with a cheer, No. 1235 became the last car to depart San Mateo. The era of the San Mateo Interurban, which had began as San Francisco's first trolley line, was over. 


On April 27, 1892, San Francisco's pioneering electric railway, the San Francisco & San Mateo Railway Co. (SF & SM) began service. Like many contemporary companies its corporate title was more ambitious than the reality of its operation. The furthest south the SF & SM reached was Baden (South San Francisco) thirteen miles north of San Mateo. This was reached by a circuitous San Francisco routing (other companies had the franchises on major streets) and a change of cars at 30th Street. Nevertheless, the SF & SM was the first phase of the 40-line.

Unfortunately for the SF & SM investors, despite nearly 4,200,000 riders annually, the line was a financial failure. This was largely due to the line's reputation for "mishaps," and the fact that roughly two-thirds of the route was sparsely settled. A particularly dangerous location was the steep downgrade on Chenery Street, between 30th and Diamond Streets. It was the scene of several gristly run-a-ways. On opening day a boy was seriously injured from a run-a-way, while on January 27, 1894, 21 people were injured when a car broke loose. 

On May 1, 1896, a new group of prominent investors, headed by Adolph B. and John D. Spreckels, assumed ownership of the SF & SM. They renamed the company the "San Francisco & San Mateo Electric Railway." 

On May 12, 1901, the "Baltimore Syndicate," financed by Brown Brothers of New York City purchased the San Francisco & San Mateo Electric Railway for $1,600,000. It was rumored the new owners were looking for other San Francisco street railway properties. By March 1902, the San Francisco & San Mateo Electric Railway had purchased Southern Pacific's Market Street Railway. Further consolidation occurred with the purchase of the Sutter Street Railway and the Sutro Railroad. The new amalgamated corporation became the United Railroads of San Francisco (URR). 

Work was rushed to complete the San Mateo extension after consolidation. The first car to arrive in San Mateo was line car No. 0301 on December 26, 1902. Service commenced as a 35-to 40-minute shuttle operation between Baden and San Mateo on New Year's Day 1903. Single-truck car No. 572 (built by Hammond in 1896) had the distinction of making the first revenue trip.

At the same time the Laclede Plant in St. Louis was building twenty closed 45' 9" long interurban cars. The cars were San Francisco's first interurbans, numbered 1225-1244. On April 18, 1903, the first Laclede interurban arrived. The next day car No. 1231 had the distinction of making the first test trip to San Mateo. It was also the last of the Laclede interurbans scrapped. Shuttle service between Baden and San Mateo, using the 1225 class, continued until August 1903. On that date a seventy-five through minute service was inaugurated from San Francisco to San Mateo. 

The consolidation brought the line directly to downtown San Francisco via Mission Street. This route was direct and most importantly served the more populated areas of San Francisco. The once financially strapped SF & SM Railway Company evolved into the highly profitable No. 40 San Mateo Interurban, of the URR and its successor the Market Street Railway (MSRy). During the 1920s this route was the MSRy's most profitable. In 1926 earnings were $1.74 per car hour more than its operating costs or forty-four cents more than the runner-up.


On April 18, 1906, the earth shook-the Great Earthquake had occurred. Buildings came tumbling down. San Francisco was soon ablaze. The quake damaged the San Mateo line at several locations. The URR went rapidly to work reopening the line on May 6, 1906. Patrick Calhoun, the URR president, seized the opportunity the destruction presented to eliminate most of its vast and unwanted cable car system. San Francisco suddenly had an extraordinary demand for new streetcars.

Calhoun went on a buying spree in St. Louis. At the American Car Company he purchased fifty completed cars built for the Chicago City Railway. From the St. Louis Car Company he ordered 250 (only 200 were delivered) large cars. Company officials assured Calhoun that nothing more was available that would interest him except "some heavy interurbans." 

Patrick Calhoun was interested. Southern Pacific (SP) was about to open a new direct line into San Francisco, the Bayshore Cut-Off, and possibly win the bulk of the traffic. The URR needed to counter the SP to preserve its San Mateo line patrons. Big, luxurious and speedy interurbans capable of sixty miles per hour could be the answer. Sixteen classically ornate interubans, 12 motor cars and four trailers, rejected by the Philadelphia & Western because they failed to meet specifications were awaiting an owner. St. Louis Car Company soon shipped all sixteen cars to San Francisco. Calhoun sold the four trailers while in transit to Northern Electric. They were judged unacceptable for the busy Mission Street grades. 

However, it was Mission Street that caused the new interurban cars (assigned URR Nos. 1-12) to be temporarily withdrawn following their January 1907 introduction. Frequent derailments occurred because the 37" spoke steel-tired wheels flanges were too high for the rails. Re-equipping the cars with 34" rolled steel wheels solved the problem. 

The new interurbans were San Francisco's largest electric vehicles, 52' 1" in length (over buffers) and weighed 75, 640 pounds. Their size earned their nickname "Big Subs." The "Big Subs" operated until 1923 when they were withdrawn. In 1922 the San Francisco Water Department, after an extensive examination, determined that the extreme weight of the "Big Subs" was crushing the lightly fabricated brick sewer lying just beneath the ties. If the problem was not mitigated, the City would sue. This coupled with massive power consumption and heavy wear these cars were inflicting on track and roadbed doomed the "subs." After more than a decade in storage the last "Big Sub" was dismantled and burned in 1935.

The SF & SM started running funeral cars in 1892 to San Francisco's principal cemeteries at Colma which is just across the county line in San Mateo County. They ran from funeral homes throughout San Francisco. Funeral cars transported the bereaved and deceased for many years over the inner part of the 40-line directly into Mt. Olivet, Holy Cross and Woodlawn Cemeteries via connections owned by the cemeteries. The SF & SM's successors, the URR and MSRy continued this service.

Typical of interurbans of the period was a distant amusement park which bolstered ridership (ownership was separate). The short-lived Pacific City was at San Mateo's Coyote Point on San Francisco Bay. Motor vehicles shuttled passengers to the park from Burlingame's Oak Grove station. While San Franciscans enjoyed the amusements, the extra cars were stored in a siding just north of the Burlingame's Southern Pacific station. 

At Lepsic Junction, just south of the cemeteries, the 40 made connections with the three-mile South San Francisco line. This feeder was abandoned on December 31, 1938. A real estate promoter's storage battery car (built by the Federal Storage Battery Co. in 1912) met 40-cars at Broadway, Burlingame between 1913 and 1917. More important to the line's success (or failure) was the establishment in 1915 of direct parallel bus competition by Peninsular Rapid Transit Co. This system became part of Pacific Greyhound lines. Greyhound slowly increased its market share until it was a major variable in the abandonment decision. 

Laclede 1225's were assigned to the Mission Street local lines and an occasional San Mateo trip during the "Big Sub" era. The retirement of the "Big Subs" returned the 1225's full-time to the San Mateo line. Several modifications were made to the 1225's because of their reassignment to interurban service. MSRy lengthened (the cars were now 48' 1") and enclosed the platforms to allow "Pay As You Enter" fare collection, installed electric heaters, cushioned leather seats, air gongs and enclosed the end smoking sections. In 1930 field-shunting was added to the 1225's. This increased their speed to the 50-mph range and reduced the schedule by five minutes. The MSRy removed the "speed boxes" in 1933 because of increased traffic congestion that slowed streetcar operation.


The 40-line was a beneficiary of MSRy management during the 1920's. Track was reballasted and a new and faster alignment constructed between Colma and Cypress Lawn Cemetery in 1926-27. A decade later the tracks in Daly City and Mission Street were renewed. Power supply was improved with an additional generator at the Millbrae substation. Improved shelters and waiting stations were constructed.

Cars left Fifth and Market Streets, San Francisco, from 6:10 A.M. to Midnight except on Saturdays when the last car left at 1:20 A.M. because of the late theater crowd. Service from San Mateo operated from 5:20 A.M. to 1:05 A.M. Headways ranged from 10 to 20 minutes. Ten minute headways were common on Sundays when passenger counts more than 200 per trip were experienced. In 1929 the 40 required sixteen cars to maintain its schedules, but by 1943 this number was reduced to eleven.

In 1943, Ira Swett, the long time editor of Interubans, accurately characterized the MSRy as "a giant fallen low." Swett wrote, "The one-time giant of western traction is the most run-down system operating in a metropolitan area. Equipment is mostly obsolete, tracks are very poor save in one or two conspicuous instances such as Daly City-Cypress Lawn stretch (of the 40-line), shop facilities are completely outmoded." 

Deferred maintenance was becoming an increasing problem. For example, motorman Gerry Graham, inbound on Mission Street, suddenly heard a crashing noise followed by his 1225 rising slightly off the tracks. Graham with some difficulty stopped the car. Looking back through the car he saw his conductor laughing and pointing at the street. The rear brake beam of the lead truck fell off and the second truck had run over it!

On February 23, 1943, service was significantly reduced despite strong and increasing ridership. Under an order from the Office of Defense Transportation all evening service was discontinued except a one-man shuttle using 900 class city cars between Daly City and San Bruno. Effective August 16, 1943, off-peak service was cut to a shuttle on a fifteen minute headway between Daly City and San Mateo, also using one-man 900 class cars. Through San Francisco service using the 1225's ran only between 6:00 A.M. and 8:30 A.M. and 4:00 to 7:00 P.M. On Sundays a San Francisco to San Bruno shuttle ran. The alleged reasons for these service reductions were the war time "man-power shortage" and "car shortage." 

The California State Railroad Commission strongly rejected these arguments. They sided with Swett's position. The Commission wrote that year ". . . there is evidence of long-time neglect, of mismanagement, of indifference to urgent public need, and . . . poor service that was by no means caused by the war." The condition of the company has grown progressively worse "and in 1943 the standard of service had reached the lowest point in the company's history." MSRy President Samuel Kahn defended deferring maintenance as "an obligation to the stockholders." 

The MSRy era was drawing to a close. 


The Municipal Railway (Muni) started operating Saturday, December 28, 1912. At the opening ceremony at Geary and Market Streets Mayor James S. "Sunny Jim" Rolph told the throng, "It is in reality the people's road, built by the people and with the people's money." 

Attempts by the City and County of San Francisco to buy the MSRy had always failed. Each time the electorate refused to approve the necessary bonds. Roger Lapham was elected mayor in 1943 and had a new plan. He would use Muni's surplus profits, earned because of World War II ridership, to purchase the MSRy. The voters approved and at 5:00 a.m. on September 29, 1944, the MSRy including the San Mateo Interurban became part of the People's Railway. 

Although most of the 40-line was outside San Francisco, nevertheless it soon benefitted from new ownership. Muni revived through two-man service on December 24. Evening service still operated only to San Bruno. On March 4, 1945, through service was restored at all times from 5th and Market Streets to San Mateo. To save between six and eight minutes by avoiding Mission Street congestion, service for fourteen blocks was routed off Mission to Valencia Street. The car of choice was the 1225's. 

Muni received 440 streetcars from the MSRy. San Mateo car No. 1244 had the honor of being the first ex-MSRy car to be painted in the blue and gold scheme of the Muni. Besides the service improvements Muni undertook a general upgrading of the line. 

On July 26, 1946, Muni abandoned Valencia Street and returned the 40 to congested Mission Street. There were short-lived plans to retain and rebuild former major MSRy streetcar lines including Mission Street, but these were soon rejected.

Muni found it economically desirable to reduce service as postwar ridership declined. The 40 resumed shuttle service in August 1947, from Daly City to San Mateo, except weekday and Saturday rush hours. At all other times the dwindling number of through patrons were forced to transfer at Daly City. The two-man 1225 class was retained. 

Two traditional extra operations continued to abandonment. "Racetrack Specials" were run during the horse racing season at San Bruno's Tranforan Racetrack. San Mateo and Burlingame high school students commuted to and from school on special "High School Trippers." 

At the time of its abandonment the 40-line was still covering its operating costs. However, track and overhead repair and new cars were badly needed. Muni's Consulting Engineer did "not believe that the necessary expenditure of $750,000 to $1,000,000 for such rehabilitation is economically sound." Conversion to "trackless trolley" operation was rejected as too expensive because of an estimated cost "in excess of $1,000,000." This plan included paving the 10-mile private right-of-way from Colma to Burlingame. The Engineer stated "the people prefer rubber borne vehicles, operating on frequent headways, to any other form of transportation" and recommended "that the San Mateo Interurban line be converted to a motor coach line." Twenty-two 44-passenger motor coaches at a cost of $14,900 each would be required. 

However, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to abandon the interurban without replacement in December 1948. Mission Street was to be converted to trolley buses (trolley bus conversion occurred January 6, 1952). Part of the abandonment decision was linked to the belief that the City of San Francisco should not operate its transit system beyond Daly City. Muni offered San Mateo County the 40. The offer was spurned.

Recent discussion to electrify the Peninsula Commuter Service (former Southern Pacific line) raises memories of the San Mateo Interurban. One can only speculate what might have happened to Peninsula transportation if the 40-line had been upgraded and rerouted via Twin Peaks Tunnel as proposed in the late 1940's. However, the ride on a modern system could not equal the "romance" of the "Big Subs" or 1225's as they bounced their way along the 40-line right-of-way.


The private right of way to Burlingame was retained in the event a Mission Street Subway was built. On November 6, 1962, the voters approved the funding for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). BART built a heavy rail line, partially under Mission Street, to Daly City and then (20 years later) to Colma. This line is currently being extended to the Millbrae-Burlingame city line via San Francisco Airport using in part the abandoned Southern Pacific Ocean View (San Bruno) branch right-of-way. When completed, this alignment will provide an approximation of the San Mateo Interurban.

At the time the Philadelphia & Western ordered the "Big Subs" an order was placed for two baggage cars. One of these cars No. 401 (originally No. 101) is still in existence. It is stored under tarp in Philadelphia at SEPTA's Germantown Depot. This car can claim to be the last "Big Sub."


The authors would like to acknowledge and thank Mike Anderson, Bruce Battles, Don Holmgren, Art Lloyd, Fred Matthews, David Pharr, Ward Rice and Richard Schlaich for their valuable contributions and insights. A special thanks goes to Ed Springer for his many editorial comments.

About the Authors

Walter E. Rice, Ph.D., is the Chair of the Board of Directors of "The Friends of the Cable Car Museum." The Museum is at the Washington-Mason cable car barn in San Francisco. Walter, a native San Franciscan, has written many transportation articles dealing with cable cars, streetcars, and railroads. He coauthored, Of Cables and Grips, San Francisco's Cable Cars and The Saga of the Overfair Railway Pacifics, From Panama to Poly. He resides in San Luis Obispo, California.

Emiliano J. Echeverria is a San Francisco transportation historian. His large personal collection of San Francisco transportation artifacts reflects his broad knowledge, love and enthusiasm for the City and its transportation legacy. He is currently assisting in the production of a San Francisco 1940's-1950's streetcar video entitled The Roar of the Four. Emiliano worked for the Muni's cable car division. He resides in San Francisco.

For more about San Francisco street and cable cars, see History by Subject.

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