SF to rebuild underground cable car pulley system

San Francisco's iconic cable cars are hoisted uphill by 35-year-old wheels called "sheaves," which pull massive steel cables at 9.5 miles per hour.

Now, those 25 underground sheaves will be rebuilt from the ground up as part of an already-planned replacement of the motorized gearboxes that rotate those pulleys.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority board, comprised of the Board of Supervisors, approved on Tuesday $280,999 to repair the sheaves. The large wheels were last rebuilt between 1982 and 1984, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. [...]

The cable cars' first power sources were steam engines powered by "enormous amounts of coal each day," according to the Cable Car Museum website. San Francisco replaced that steam system with electric motors in the decade following the 1906 earthquake and fire, according to the museum, which is still used today.

If you have not visited the Cable Car Museum in person, you are missing out on something amazing.

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6 Responses:

  1. MrEricSir says:

    They do a lousy job of marketing the Cable Car Museum. The "museum" part isn't all that interesting compared to watching the heart of the cable car system's mechanics in action. The little room in the basement with all the pulleys looks like the invention of a mad scientist.

  2. MattyJ says:

    I happened to visit the museum one time when they were re-braiding a cable. Which is essentially taking the two frayed ends of a cable and braiding them together to make one continuous loop of a cable. That shiz-net was fascinating to watch. I bet that's an artisan kind of skill that very few people in the world still know how to do. There isn't a magic machine that does it, it's a couple dudes with hammers, pokers, rods and all kinds of other tools spending the better part of a day twisting that business together.

    It's right up there with watching a master neon bender at work, which is also quite fascinating/impressive.

    • Jack says:

      I would love to see that. For years growing up I would ask people how they connected the cables together for ski lifts since there was no obvious connector or anything and no one had a clue. Thanks to the internet I finally was able to find out that they spliced them together and as far as I know it is definitely something not very many people can do and it is all done by hand.

      • Simon says:

        German TV for children to the rescue:


        • margaret says:

          This is brilliant. 45+ years later and I can still taste the disappointment of being so excited to get to watch "The Electric Company" in second grade and it not being *this*. All the other kids were delighted with the god-damned songs and skits and I'm all "The fuck is this? Where's Edison, Westinghouse, Grand Coolee Dam? I wanna see some power generation!" If "The Electric Company" had slipped a few of these videos in it would have been much more tolerable and lived somewhat up to the potential of its name. Fuckers.

    • Mike Nomad says:

      Wire Splicing is a real PITA. Requires a lot of patience and attention to detail to get it right the first time. From personal experience... it is _very_ easy to see when you have it wrong.

      I wouldn't class the skill as a rarity... Plenty of people doing it in the Merchant Marine, and was part of the BM3 manual when I was in the Navy.

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