The San Francisco Cable Car system celebrates its 150th anniversary in August 2023. The Andrew Smith Hallidie invention, a visit to the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, and a ride on the Powell-Mason line inspired the poem “nine point five miles per hour” by James Morehead (Poet Laureate – Dublin, California). The poem premiered at the SF Chronicle TotalSF Movie Night on August 25, 2022, hosted by the SF Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight. The September 23 episode of the TotalSF Podcast featured an interview with a Cable Car Gripman. Below is the poem “nine point five miles per hour”.
nine point five miles per hour After the San Francisco Cable Car Museum (San Francisco, California) caution cable car crossing stenciled yellow on asphalt outside a cavernous brick powerhouse it all starts and ends here: four continuous loops—wire rope stretched tight by tension sheaves turned precisely nine point five miles per hour by winding machinery— motors and gears, massive and dripping with grease until night falls and cars sleep when workers wake to splice worn cables in time for the morning rush — gold rush inventor andrew hallidie dreamt of designs for carrying ore from mines to mills and corseted ladies, men in top hats children sporting their sunday best up the steep sandy slopes of san francisco he wrote of the great cruelty and hardship of horses pulling streetcars up rain-slicked cobblestones until one slipped, brakes failed, dragging the terrified standardbred down leaving it mutilated between truck and rail hallidie’s cables fanned out, rattling in trenches past union square to fisherman's wharf from van ness to embarcadero — a century later i wait at the base of powell listening to buskers drum on trash cans as two operators shove #16 on a turnaround i cling to a handrail right upfront feet balanced on a wooden running board, jostling with tourists smiling for selfies with two distinct clangs on the cable car bell our driver pulls hard on a long iron grip so its jaw can clench cable as ratchet teeth chatter through an intersection we go nine point five miles an hour chilled by wisps of fog up and over nob hill First performed at the SF Chronicle’s TotalSF Movie Night August 25, 2022 copyright 2022 James Morehead