San Mateo County History
“The San Mateo Suburban Line of the United Railroads of San Francisco"
Source:  The Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas, January 1904, San Francisco.

With the extension of the system of the United Railroads of San Francisco from Holy Cross Cemetery to San Mateo, the promoters of the original San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railroad Company have witnessed the realization, albeit attained by others, of their conception of an all-electric line between the heart of San Francisco and the charming suburb of San Mateo.  Heretofore the residents of the latter city who attended to business in San Francisco were obliged to rely solely on the steam train service of the Southern Pacific Company as a means of transportation, and although this service was fast and comparatively frequent, it was by no means satisfactory in that missing a train in the morning would mean a wait of an hour or so, while shoppers to the city who lived in San Francisco were obliged to devote a whole day to the trip.  Theater-goers were forever sparring with the time of departure of the last train, and to miss it would mean spending a night in San Francisco, with incidental hotel expenses.  In addition to these shortcomings, ten or fifteen minutes in additional time would be spent in traveling on street cars in the city before one’s place of business could be reaches.  In fact, the steam service, though good for its kind, could stand no favorable comparison with the service to be rendered by electric cars, with their perfect flexibility, that has been so evident in every instance wherein electricity has come into competition with steam as a means of transportation to suburban localities.

Millbrae, situated some thirteen miles southeast by south of San Francisco, and about one-quarter of the way to San Jose, practically marks the beginning of that magnificent stretch of country reaching beyond Palo Alto, which is famous as containing the magnificent homes of the many Californian millionaires whose deeds and wealth have made their names known throughout the world.  About these grand old estates wealth and society have gathered, with the result that from San Mateo to Palo Alto may be found superb country places which may be regarded as being to San Francisco what Newport is to New York.  There exists throughout the entire line of the electric road a closely populated region which abounds in diversified means of enhancing the patronage of the line.  In San Mateo County, just across the border line of the City and County of San Francisco, are located the principal of the city cemeteries, consisting chiefly of Mount Olivet, Salem, Home of Peace, Cypress Lawn, Sherith Israel, Hills of Eternity, Emanuel and Holy Cross Cemeteries.  Beyond is the Tanforan racetrack, nearby which are the abattoirs and various manufacturing industries of Baden lying along the San Bruno canal; then follow the towns of San Bruno, Millbrae and Burlingame before the city of San Mateo is reached.  The electric line of the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway Company has been running through from the city to Brookville, which is in reality but another name for Holy Cross Cemetery, for several years, but it has only been since the absorption of the company named by the United Railroads of San Francisco hat it has been finished on to San Mateo, as originally projected.  It is the purpose of the present company to extend the road from San Mateo first to Palo Alto and then to San Jose in the near future.  When the United Railroads took possession of its various railway properties in San Francisco, among them it acquired, as heretofore intimated, the partially completed line to San Mateo, eleven miles of which had been finished, and of these eleven miles about four miles were in the city proper.  The new extension to San Mateo has a length of practically 10.6 miles further, all of which has been built through a private right of way, with the exception that from Burlingame to San Mateo franchises have been secured to run on the streets.

A map of the double track with cross-overs, switches, etc., from Holy Cross to San Mateo, and a sectional drawing showing roadbed construction, are presented.  The ties are redwood, six inches by eight inches by eight feet.  They are placed two feet six inches from center to center.  The rail is a seventy-two pound T-rail, on the private right of way.  The joints are cast-welded, with an expansion joint every 1000 feet.  Each cast-weld weighs 110 pounds.  In the town of San Mateo a nine-inch girder rail is used.  With the exception of a slight grade in San Mateo the interurban line is practically level.  Several views, reproduced from photographs, illustrate typical cuts and fills.  Except in San Mateo the entire interurban line is heavily ballasted with crushed rock.  Track centers are thirteen feet and the gauge is standard.

Wooden side-pole construction is used on the entire interurban section.  The poles carrying high-tension wires are seven inches by seven inches at the top, thirteen inches by thirteen inches at the base, and thirty-five feet long.  The other poles are eight inches by eight inches at the top, twelve inches by twelve inches at base, and twenty-five feet long.  They are all of redwood, and the portion which extends into the ground was coated with crude oil.  They are painted a dark green, with a mixture of linseed oil, yellow ochre and lamp black.

The cross-arms are all made of Oregon pine, those carrying the high-tension-wires being four inches by six inches by five feet, and four inches by six inches by seven feet.  The three high-tension wires are arranged in a triangle on one side of the pole, making it possible to add another set if it is desired.  One wire is carried on the upper cross-arm and two on the lower.  The wire is No. 0 and is triple braided, waterproof.  The Locke No. 100 brown porcelain, single petticoat, iron pin insulators are used.  The cross-arms carryint the feeder wires are four inches by six inches.  Steel pin porcelain insulators are used.  There are at present five feeder wires from Millbrae substation, all being 500,000 circular mills.  The trolley wire is No. 00 hard-drawn copper.  The span wires are five-sixteenths-inch galvanized iron strand wire.  The ears are all soldered.  The construction work on this line follows the same high standard as that adopted on other parts of the system.

Power is furnished to this line as follows:  From the ferries to Thirtieth Street the Bryant Street power house furnishes direct current at 550 volts; from Thirtieth Street to Hold Cross the Geneva Avenue substation supplies the power, and from Holy Cross to San Mateo the Millbrae substation is depended upon. The latter section, supplied by the Millbrae substation, includes almost all the interurban portion of the road, although the Geneva Avenue substation has sufficient capacity to supply both the suburban and interurban sections, and enable the Millbrae substation to be closed down when the rush hours are over, but this necessitates transmitting power for about fourteen miles.  It is being done, however, with fair success, through the aid of sufficient feed wire and a good return circuit employing cast-welded joints.

The Millbrae substation, illustrated herewith, is a substantial fireproof, red brick building, forty feet by seventy-five feet.  The walls and foundations are built of brick and cement, the floor is of concrete, and the roof is covered with best quality California slate, nailed on cinder concrete.  The station is well lighted by large windows.  The walls and ceilings are painted with light, harmonious colors, thus presenting an inviting appearance.  A waiting room is provided for passengers in the basement, the floor of which is on a level with the track.  A toilet room, lockers, telephone booth, desk, neat work benches, supply closets, etc., are provided for the comfort and convenience of the men operating the plant.

Alternating current is transmitted to Millbrae substation from the main power plant of the United Railroads at North Beach at 13,200 volts, over a distance of about 85,000 freet.  At Millbrae the current is stepped down to 440 volts and then converted into direct current at 550 volts.  The entire electric machinery is of the General Electric type.

The cars are of the monitor deck pattern, with drop sash, cross seats, smoking compartment and vestibuled ends.  They were built by the Laclede Car Company, of the following dimensions: Length over all, forty-five feet nine inches; length over body, thirty-four feet four inches; width over sills, nine feet; width over belt rail, nine feet two and one-half inches; width over drip board, nine feet six inches; width over steps, nine feet eight inches; height of car from bottom of bolster to top of trolley board, nine feet four inches; bolster centers, twenty-three feet.

The trucks for these cars are the Brill standard No. 27.  The wheel base is six feet.  The side frames are solid forged steel.  The whieels are made by the St. Louis Car Wheel Company, are thirty-three inches diameter; weigh 450 pounds and have eight spokes.  The treads measure two and one-quarter inches and the flanges three-quarter inch.  On account of passing over grooved rail in the city it was impossible to make the dimensions any larger.  The axles are of Jones & Laughlin cold rolled steel, four and one-inches in diameter.

The interior of the car is finished with selected cherry and the ceilings covered with three-ply birds'-eye maple veneer, decorated with a single stripe of aluminum leaf.

There are twenty-five thirty-two candle power lamps used for lighting, twelve being placed along the sides, six on each side, and three three-light clusters on the ceiling of the main compartment, and one two-light cluster in the smoking compartment.

In order to insure saftey and to warn people of the danger on the private right of way, several precautions are taken.  In the first place, the private right of way is fenced in.  At every point where a road crosses the private right of way cattle guards are put up, and signs reading, "Danger! Look Out for Electric Cars!" are placed on each side of such crossings.

Light clusters are placed over these crossings, so that a clear view of the signs and of the crossing may be had at night.  People view of the signs and of the crossing may be had at night.  People who attempt to walk on the private right of way will find signs as follows: "No Thoroughfare--Private Right of Way," staring them in the face.  On all gates leading to the private right of way are signs warning people to close them, otherwise making themselved liable to prosecution.

The arc headlight, air whistles and rotary gongs on the cars are used within their respective limits to give warning.  The red signal lanterns on the rear and oil lamps in the cars were installed with a view of preventing collisions in case of cars becoming disabled at night.

The cars at the present time are operated every half-hour from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and every hour from 8 p.m. to midnight.  On Sundays and holidays cars are run every fifteen minutes or less, as the traffic requires.  The time required to make the trip one way is one hour fifteen minutes, the distance being twenty-three miles.  The running time, of course, could be greatly reduced, were it not for the fact that one-half of the entire distance is either through the city of its suburbs.  Here, of course, a greater speed than eight or ten miles per hour is not allowed.  On the private right of way a speed of forty miles per hour is attained.  The fare is 25 cents one way, entitling passengers to transfer to any part of San Francisco.

Another feature of the road is the introduction of palace excursion cars, superbly fitted up, with every convenience and comfort, in which patrons may enjoy all the views San Francisco affords without the annoyance of stoppages, or indulge in evening "trolley parties" with pleasant surroundings, refreshment and music ad lib.  The latest addition to the number of palace cars is the "San Francisco," which is chartered almost every day there is any event of note takin gplace at the Ingleside race track.  The company also runs special excursion cars at stated hours daily making stops onlly at points of unusual interest, and traversing every section of the city.

The general manager of the United Railroads of San Francisco is George F. Chapman, who was formerly general superintendent of the North Jersey Street Railway Company, with headquarters at Newark, N.J.   F.F. Bodler, master mechanic of the United Railroads of San Francisco, was also formely connected with the North Jersey system.  To the latter, acknowledgement of thanks is due by the publishers for the information contained in this article.

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