Friday, July 22, 2011

Cable Cars of San Francisco: A lady saved them from extinction

CABLE CARS of San Francisco and how in 1961, a lady leader

Frieda Klussmann could save them from extinction


San Francisco and its cable cars are so synonymous to each other that a set of photograph of San Francisco without a picture of cable car is an incomplete set. Besides a land mark for tourist, cable cars have become a necessity for San Franciscans for daily commuting.


Cable cars of San Francisco operate on a system, totally different from way trams operate in other cities including Indian metropolis, Kolkata. Kolkata is the only city in India where trams are still running. Cable cars of San Francisco do not have any power of their own. The system is unique and perhaps the only one of its kind in the world. A strong steel cable runs continuously on a pully system. Each area has a power station that rotates cables underground. The main technique lies on turns where the cables are so designed that the alignment between the car and cable remains always intact. In the middle of pair of rail tracks they have a slot where a pole from cable car is lowered and gripped to the “always moving” cable. Cable cars have clutch system on the grip under the rail line. This is a variable grip with a control like clutch system in automobiles. The driver engages and disengages the mechanism as per requirement of movement. This means that a cable car can run slower than the speed of cable running under the tram tracks but never faster than the speed of running cables under ground.


Power to move the cable cars is applied at the main Power House but Cable cars move on action of engaging and disengaging the under ground cable with the car. This requires quite a bit of manual muscular strength. The driver has to remain standing and use power of his legs to apply mechanical brakes and muscular power of hands for engaging or disengaging the drive cable. Owing to limitations of inability to steer, slow acceleration and braking due to high inertia, driving a cable car is more difficult than driving any automobile. The driver has to remain standing and operate the clutch mechanism with hands. Only able bodied and well built personnel are enrolled for the post of drivers. Selection is done on the merits of physique and reflex action which are two main criterion in addition to road reflexes, sense and ability to judge the traffic passing by.

Decision to scrap the Cable Car System: January 28, 1947, the morning news-papers gave San Franciscans a shock as they read the news that a fleet of buses would replace Cable Cars operating on Powell Street. San Franciscans, who had, and still have, a strong bond and affection for their city’s cable cars, could not digest this, and that too in an almost casual manner. The news papers informed that the most colorful transportation system in their city was to perish. Indeed the rout of Powell Street, starting at a turntable at Market Street, slipping past Union Square, Creasing Nob and Russian Hills on its meandering way to the Bay, must have been, as it still is, the most colorful street rail system in the world.

Now that it was announced that the cable cars would be scrapped and their tracks dismantled, a rumble of ignition of quiet anger was heard throughout San Francisco.

Mrs. Frieda Klussmann: At first, this anger remained directionless for want of a leader with energy, sentiments, dedication and intelligent sense of history. It was not long when a combination of all these qualities came forward in a person by the name of Mrs. Frieda Klussmann. San Franciscans found their leader. Mrs. Klussmann organized Citizens’ Committee to save the cable cars and campaigned against indifference and short sightedness on part of planners and decision makers. Mrs. Klussmann and her fellow followers maintained that a decision about Cable cars’ future should be made by people who use them and not by an administrative civil servants sitting in offices, most of whom had no attachment with San Francisco.

Plebiscite: Against odds and disappointments, which would have discouraged a less determined person, Mrs. Klussmann’s efforts secured a place for Cable Cars on the ballot. Fascinated by the sentimental and nostalgic struggle, entire USA looked on as San Francisco went to a general plebiscite. An overwhelming majority said, “Save the Cable Cars.”

This and the future generations are in debt of the “Cable Car Lady”, (as Mrs Klusmann is affectionately known) and to the timely forces which she organized. She not only paved path of transportation that continued to serve and delight, but also saved the city’s “International Trade Mark.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Niagara Falls: Unforgettable visit

Are you planning to visit Niagara?: If you are planning to visit Niagara Falls and you have the curiosity to know about the place you are going to visit, the information here would make your trip even more enjoyable and memorable. If you have already visited, these details, which have been collected from documentary film, articles, books and write ups, would help you add more to your knowledge bank.

Niagara River, which makes Niagara Falls, is one of the few rivers in the world that flow from North to South. Also, unlike most of the rivers, which originate from mountains, this river originates from one lake and ends up in another. It flows from Lake Eire to Lake Ontario. Both the originating and receiving lakes have half of their portion in the US and Canada. International border between US and Canada pass through the middle of both these lakes. An International Control Station, in Niagara, built in 1962, regulates the flow of water in the river.

Origin of name "Niagara": According to some researchers, the name "Niagara" is derived from a local native tribe, who were called "Niagagarega". Similar mention is also found in French maps of late 17th century.

Tell-tale: According to a legendary tell-tale, a witch by the name “Niga” and her cat by the name “Gura” were punished by the angry villagers. Both were put in a wooden drum and thrown from the top of water fall. On the fall, the drum did not break. On opening the drum the witch was found dead but cat survived. The tribes men started worshiping the cat and named the waterfall as “Niaaguaa”, which later changed to Niagara.

Logical Name: According to a thesis by Dr. George R. Stewart of US, the name “Niagara” comes from an Iroquois town called "Ongniaahra", which means "point of land cut in two". (Sounds logical.)
The river from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is just 35 miles (56 KM) long and includes Niagara Falls en rout. Northern ends of both the lakes fall in Canada and Southern ends in the US. In addition to both these lakes, the border between US and Canada passes through middle of the river too.

Was the fall ever frozen?: There are a few websites showing that once in April 1911, Niagara fall was frozen when there was a record lowest temperature of -11 deg C. However, these claims are not authenticated by any official record and people have challenged the photographs as photo-shopped and misleading. As per official records of US weather office there is no record of any occasion when water in the river was ever frozen.

Drifting of falls: A study has shown that due to soil erosion in past 120 years, Niagara falls have shifted about 11 KM backwards. After the construction of hydro-electric plants in both the countries, which are located over 5 miles away from the falls, the diversion has significantly reduced the rate of erosion.

Harnessing energy from water fall: Initial idea of harnessing the energy of water fall was not approved as this could have rightly spoiled the natural beauty of the falls. The challenge was to use the water but no commercialization anywhere near the fall. None of the power houses have made use of the energy generated by free falling water at Niagara. Both the power houses are located far from the falls. While designing the power houses, both the countries took care in designing, so that they may remain far from the falls and not cause any obstruction in the view and the natural beauty of the water falls. Hydro electric generating plants of US and Canada have built their own dams far from Niagara falls without affecting the beauty or ecology of Niagara falls.
On the Canadian side, the hydroelectric power station has been named after Sir Adam Beck (1857 –1925). Beck was a politician and a hydro-electricity advocate. Born in Ontario Canada, (1857) to German immigrants parents, Beck had established himself as a wealthy and influential Canadian civic leader in Canada.
On the US side the hydroelectric power station has been named after Robert Moses (1888 –1981), who is known as the "master builder" of mid-20th century. Moses has many buildings in New York designed by him. He is well remembered as an architect of a today’s New York and is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann, a leading architect of Paris. A far sighted architect, Robert Moses changed New York by building bridges, tunnels and roadways that transformed New York forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit system helped create the modern suburbs ofLong Island” and influenced a generation of engineers, architects and urban planners who spread his philosophies across USA.

In 1954, US was the first to initiate construction of power house in Niagara. Canada followed in 1961. Together, both the countries generate 4.4 Gigawatts power from Niagara. . (1 Gigawatt is equal to one billion watts.)

Total drop of the fall at Niagara is colossal 326 ft (99 Meters).
Besides several small islands, Niagara River features two large islands; Grand Island and Navy Island. Goat Island and the tiny Luna Island split Niagara Falls into its three sections, the Horseshoe fall, the Bridal Veil fall and the American Fall.
Niagara waterfalls are best enjoyed on viewing at night. During day time, one can see that Canada’s side offers better facilities and hotels which include revolving restaurant, towering hotel buildings with a view of the falls from hotel rooms. A trip on the boat “Maid of the mist” is a must to enjoy the visit to its best. The boat takes the visitors quite close to the fall. Boat trip includes a disposable rain coat.
Since the water at Niagara flows from South to North, best view of Niagara falls can be enjoyed from North i.e; Canada. One can have the most panoramic view of both the falls from Canada, especially at night, when the falls are lit with colored flood lights and offer a mesmerizing view.
Niagara has a small airport which offers helicopter and aircraft sight seeing rides on seat sharing basis.
Restaurants at Niagara falls are mostly owned by Indians and Chinese and offer choicest Indian Naan, Roti, Biryani, Matar Paneer or Chicken Curry from Hindi speaking stall owners. On asking from them I was happy to learn that Indian visitors to Niagara are on the increase every year.

Above: Every passenger visiting the falls in the boat is provided a disposable raincoat.

Below: An "Out of the world" enchanting and breathtaking view of Niagara Falls at night.
Bridal veil fall. as seen from the observation deck.
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V S Saxena
Mumbai, India.
Written on July 16, 2011.