San Francisco, CA Cable Car - Auto Wreck, Dec 1967

Runaway Cable Car Hits Auto; 43 Hurt

Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—With passengers screaming in terror, a cable car ran wild down one of San Francisco’s steepest hills Sunday night, ramming a car which exploded into flames and crashed into nine others.

Ambulance took 43 persons most of them from the cable car, to hospitals with burns and bruises. Critically burned was James Van Baalen, 30, of San Francisco.

The six-ton Hyde Street cable car, nearing the end of its two-mile run from Powell and Market streets in a heavy downpour, rolled onto the steep grade and went forward out of control on rain-slick tracks.


According to passengers the cable car careened for a block and a half down Hyde. Some passengers jumped off. At Bay Street the car rammed an auto which bounced off others as its gas tank ruptured.

“A big sheet of flame hit the cable car,” said Jim Kosek, 33, of Clarendon Hills, Ill. Kosek, just returned from serving in Vietnam, said the cable car seemed to have “lost its brakes.”

Several persons were injured in the autos that were hit after the initial impact.

Another cable car passenger, Lorena Matson, 29, of San Francisco, said, “As the cable car started down the steep hill toward Bay Street, the driver said, ‘oh, oh. it looks like we’re gonna lose our cable.”


“We thought he was just kidding, the tourists and we laughed. Then we just kept going. Some people jumped off, screaming. There was a white car at Bay Street. Then things were falling. There was fire.”

The cable car continued for another block and stopped at North Point Street, its front windshield and the ancient woodwork on the right side smashed. But the steelwork in front appeared intact.

Officer Frank Coombs said he believed the cable car had lost the grip on the sub-pavement cable that pulls the cars up the hills of the city.

Police said the cable car grip-man, Arthur Coats, and the conductor-brakeman, Lou Abels, were not injured.

The car is moved by an underground cable coursing along a slot between the tracks at nine miles an hour. The gripman operates a steel grip which extends down into the slot and grasps the moving cable.

Rockford Register-Republic, Rockford, IL 4 Dec 1967