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Henry Casebolt's Elevated Railroad

Henry Casebolt's (Caseholt) Elevated Railroad / Overhead line, 1887 (4 months)

The Piedmonter, 1957

MR. CASEBOLT'S OVERHEAD CABLE CAR on Moraga Avenue between Bonita and Highland Avenues. This was an experimental narrow gauge electric car designed to supplant the cable car and was used for a time near the high end of Moraga because it was the steepest part of the cable car run. Behind Driver Casebolt whose innovation was shortlived, is Montgomery Howe in the top hat and beside him is Walter Blair, Piedmont's first resident. At the rear, wearing a straw hat, is Mark Requa. The other men are unidentified and solemn as well they might be for both Casebolt and Howe went broke trying to finance an East Bay transportation system. The young lad at the left is Charles Miller who became an Oakland realtor. We don't know what ever became of the boy at the right.

1 - 1887 - overhead experimental cable car in blair park  with inventor Henry Casebolt at

The ultimate Victorians of the continental side of San Francisco Bay by Richey, Elinor, Publication date 1970:

This airy vehicle was Henry Caseholt's experimental overhead cable car that ran for four months along Highland Avenue in Piedmont. While the car ran on the tracks of the Consolidated Cable Company, it was pulled by an overhead cable that ran through sheaves attached to posts. But the satisfactory performance of the conventional underground cable coupled with feeling against unsightly overhead posts made it impossible for Caseholt to find a backer. He is pictured at the controls, and Mark Requa, one of the line's owners, is pictured in background in straw hat. For a thirteen-year period, beginning in 1886, Oakland had cable car service equal to San Francisco's. The cables kept spinning until 1899, when the lines were converted to electricity. (Albert Norman collection)


The San Francisco Examiner - Wed - Jul. 13, 1887

The cable car book by Smallwood, Charles A., Publication date 1980:

Passersby often stopped and helped to turn the carriage, establishing a precedent for the activity at cable car turntables of today. Also, in the hope of overcoming some of the maintenance problems created by a system the arteries of which lay underground, Casebolt conceived the plan of placing the cables overhead. The result was an odd-looking model which actually ran for four months across the bay in the Piedmont hills. On the roof of the car was an elaborate. Art Nouveau device that grasped at cables that ran through brackets supported at roof level on lamp posts. The idea was not unlike the idea behind modern-day electric streetcars, but at the time all those posts, poles and overhead wires were deemed unsightly, and Casebolt could get no backing for his plan. He went on to design improvements in the grip mechanism as used by Hallidie, and to utilize the refinements in his own system.

Cable car carnival by Beebe, Lucius, 1902-1966, Publication date 1951:

San Francisco’s versatile blacksmith, Henry Casebolt, is known to posterity as the inventor of the balloon car as well as the lever-operated grip still in use on San Francisco’s cable cars. He is less well remembered, however, for “Casebolt’s Elevated Cable for Rapid Transit.” This remarkable vehicle was actually placed in operation for four months at Piedmont Hills, but the satisfactory performance of the more conventional underground cables coupled with the then growing movement for the elimination of unsightly lamp posts, telegraph poles and such made it impossible for the inventor to find a backer and the device was never placed in large scale operation. It consisted of an ordinary four wheel car body with an arrangement on the roof suggestive of the underpinnings of an old-fashioned sewing machine. At its apex was an enlarged pair of blacksmith’s tongs which, when operated by the gripman, clamped onto an overhead cable that ran through sheaves attached to a lamp post. With Case- bolt at the controls and a group of friends joining him for the joyride the experimental car is shown in this rare photograph from the collection of Gilbert Kneiss of the Western Pacific Railroad.

In 1887, Henry Casebolt, builder of the Sutter Street Railway built an experimental line in Piedmont's Blair Park to demonstrate an overhead cable system. He hoped to sell it to the management of the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company. They were not interested.

Casebolt's idea was that not having to lay an expensive conduit under the street would save money. In this system, the cable would run on pulleys attached to cross arms on poles along the line. In the accompanying photograph, the grip sits atop the ornate metal structure, which reminds me of the legs under my grandmother's sewing machine. One of the poles is dimly visible in the background. In larger and clearer copies of the photograph, one can read the legend "H Casebolt's Elevated Railroad" on the dash panel of the car. The grip is essentially a single-jaw side grip. According to historian Roy Graves, the cable and pulleys dripped lubricant on the passengers.

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