Tim Baskerville Photography
PO Box 29074 - Presidio of
San Francisco 94129

Car No.1040, San francisco (19xx) Reflections

Car No. 130, San Francisco (1914)


Riding the F-Line
An revised early draft for the Sunday Magazine of the San Francisco Chron/Ex, September 24, 1995

by Tim Baskerville

"My first historic streetcar ride (excepting of course, my commuter travels on the PCCs - affectionately known as the “green torpedoes” - that served San Francisco until 1982) occurred on one of the weekend excursions that grew out of the combined San Francisco Municipal Railway/Market Street Railway’s Historic Trolley Festivals of recent years. On a streetcar line that was both a remembrance of a bygone era and a proposed future streetcar line - that is where I slipped in the back door of Car 578J from Hiroshima, Japan. Immediately, I realized that this was going to be more than a standard streetcar ride. Plush green velvet upholstery, leather passenger hanger straps, and “milk glass” light fixtures first caught my eye. Then, the extensive use of wood, brass and steel. And finally, the light! Light seemed to bound in all directions, expansively illuminating the interior.

"Surely, if a fleet of cars like this existed today someone must document it, to help express what it was like inside these proud old cars, to provide portraits of these unsung workhorses of an earlier era. There are many vintage photographs of the cars’ exteriors, but relatively few photos of the interiors, and so I set about to capture the elegance, the light and the atmospheric open space I found within the historic fleet, when a collection of essays by William Kennedy entitled Riding the Yellow Trolley Car (Penguin Books, 1993) came to my attention. In one of the essays, Kennedy (himself a bit of a trolley buff) equates a surrealistic vision of an elusive yellow trolley from the past with the writing of fiction, of creativity. For Kennedy, “riding the yellow trolley car” became a metaphor for writing works of fiction. It was then clear to me that what I had experienced that first day in Car 578J, and what I was subsequently doing, was not all that different from what Kennedy experienced when he acknowledged his trolley car vision, finding that there was little difference between the source of writing fiction and journalism. It was then clear to me that the art and beauty of these old cars that I was helping to capture, to document, was also inexorably linked to every day events, every day lives. And I was, in fact, “riding the F-Line.”