Starting at the intersection of Kearny and Clay Streets the line proceeded up the sixteen percent grade on Clay to Leavenworth Street. The Clay Street line, an immediate success, was promptly extended west to Van Ness Avenue in 1877, replacing horsecars along the .4-mile route. Hallidie’s design involved a dummy car with driver pulling a trailer for passengers. The trailer was enclosed, similar to a horsecar, while the dummy, or gripcar, was open to the air, with bench-type seating. The system employed two turntables at the bottom terminus of the line. The dummy and car were uncoupled and each was moved onto one of the turntables, where it was rotated 90 degrees by the crew, hooked up again and sent back up the hill. At Leavenworth a single turntable with turnout was used to reverse the cars for the trip back down.

A powerhouse located at Clay and Leavenworth drove the line. It was a two story wooden structure, the basement being the engine room, containing the boilers, while the first floor was used for car storage and the second floor for car painting and repairing. The winding machinery sat 15 feet below the sidewalk in a vault. Inside the cable passed through pullies and sheaves, which maintained tension on the line. Outside the powerhouse, 8 foot deflecting sheaves moved the cable into a conduit consisting of cast iron yokes supported by wooden planking, forming a 22” by 16” tube under the street, through which the cable ran. A 3/4-inch slot in the street provided access for the gripping device on the dummy, which consisted of a large hollow screw that was raised and lowered into the tube by a hand wheel. An upper wheel and lower wheel brought the grip in contact with the cable and moved the car along the line. The gripman employed a series of shoe and pedal brakes to stop the car, along with an iron drag pole to prevent slipping on grades and a crude emergency brake as last resort.

The Clay Street Hill Railroad ran as an independent line until 1888, when it was sold to the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad, and incorporated into its Clay-Sacramento line. The old double tracks were replaced with a single set on Clay in 1891, and a bottle of champagne was broken over the grip, as a tribute to the first cable railroad in San Francisco.

Cable Car