search   index   by subject   by year   biographies   books  SF Activities  shop museum   contact

United Railroads' Great Work

The foremost factor in the rebuilding of San Francisco has been the United Railroads.  To this great street railway system is due the credit of having restored land transportation to the stricken city with a celerity and with an efficiency which have caused all to marvel.  Although its power houses were seriously damaged and in some cases destroyed, many of its cars burned, its employees scattered, its trolley wires and poles torn down or tangled into a hopeless mass, its cable system, which included its route along Market Street, the principal thoroughfare of the city, completely paralyzed—The United Railroads nevertheless, within a few ours after the catastrophe had cars again running.  Saturday afternoon, April 21st, the fire was out.  At 7:37 p.m. that evening cars were started running on Fillmore Street, but after two hours’ operation was suspended for a time at the request of the city authorities, but was soon after resumed.  Within ten days after the earthquake cars were running on Market Street.  Such remarkable energy and ability is unprecedented in the annals of street railway enterprises.

The suddenness with which the earthquake came instantly stopped all street railway traffic, cars halting where they were at the time of the shock.  Yet that very day, April 18, when the fires were raging at their fiercest, the United Railroads began active preparations for a prompt resumption of traffic.  Not once did President Patrick Calhoun and his associates hesitate or doubt the quick recovery of San Francisco from her terrible blow.  Their confidence in the great city never wavered for a moment.  Before the fire was extinguished, new cars and other material had been ordered from the East, debris was being cleared from the blockaded tracks, employees were being directed to report for duty, damaged cars were being repaired, and the plan of immediate resumption of service was being developed with a rapidity and correctness of judgment which has rarely been equaled and never excelled.

Means of getting about the city were imperatively demanded.  The United Railroads decided that the means should be at once provided, and they were.

Quietly, but energetically and industriously, gangs of men were started into the streets to clear the tracks, erect trolley poles and string the wires.  They worked with almost superhuman energy, under the able general direction of General Manager George F. Chapman and his assistants, General-Counsel Tirey L. Ford taking, meanwhile, the necessary legal steps to secure the approval of the municipal authorities, who heartily indorsed the company’s efforts to help the city.

Almost daily developments were made after the first cars on Fillmore and Market streets were running, the Ellis and O’Farrell, the Turk and Eddy, the Mission, the Third and Kearny, the Castro, the San Mateo, the Sutter and Post, and other lines following in rapid succession, until today 27 lines are in operation and more being added.  The general adoption of the trolley electric system made the rapid restoration of the service possible, the underground systems being virtually impracticable under the special conditions, as they are objectionable at all times.

For the first few days the company carried women and children free, the fares collected from the men being given to the relief committee.

On the morning of the earthquake, at the request of the Mayor, the company organized 2,000 of its uniformed employees into squads, each under the command of an inspector, to patrol the city, warning householders to put out fires, guarding unprotected property, and doing police duty at the expense of the United Railroads.  The salt water pumps of the company at Kentucky and Sixteenth streets were kept working, and saved much property in that vicinity.  Cars were run into the streets to be used as shelter for the homeless, and meals were served for days to the hungry in many places.

The principal owners of the company also donated $75,000 to the relief fund, $14,000 of which was in the nature of supplies.  The United Railroads’ boat laden with provisions was the first containing relief supplies to reach the city.

But the restoration of street transit was by no means all done by the United Railroads.  The enormous task of removing the debris from the burned section of the city was enough to appall the most determined.  Yet the United Railroads undertook it.  Aided by the cars, the tracks and some employees of the steam railroads, the United Railroads early in June began removing the masses of bricks, stone, iron, steel and other construction material which lay in ruins.  The work has progress with activity excelled only by that of the resumption of street traffic, until the city has promise of an early readiness to rebuild permanently on a large scale.

Meanwhile, the United Railroads is keeping the factories in the East busy manufacturing new and up-to-date equipment for it.  New cars of latest pattern are being made, and will be received at an early date.  The present temporary trolley poles will be replaced by ornamental ones, the road beds will be bettered innumerous places, and more rapid service will soon be inaugurated, and the process of betterment will be carried on as energetically as ever, until San Francisco shall have the best street railroad system in the world.  The company has already been spending millions for San Francisco.  It proposes to spend more.

San Francisco News Letter
July 21, 1906