Get a grip, ladies: Say hello to the third-ever female cable car operator


Walking up Nob or Russian Hill is a serious booty burner. But operating (or gripping) the historic cable cars dutifully traveling to their summits ain’t exactly a lazy Sunday, either.

Take it from SFMTA: “Demanding and unforgiving, gripping a cable car requires extraordinary skills: arm, hand and upper body strength, mental and physical coordination, confidence and determination.”

As such, therefore, and obviously: A woman, the third ever in cable car history, has stepped into the role.


Last week, SFMTA certified Amber Jones as a cable car grip, the third woman ever to hold the title. Grip people are located in the front of the car, operating the hand and foot controls that propel and stop our 15,500-pound pieces of history.

Amber, an operator since 2008, said: “It’s such a fun and exciting opportunity to work in a position where I get to show off such an amazing city I call home. I’m very proud and honored to be the third woman in history to drive a cable car in my hometown. San Francisco is such a diverse city with ample space and opportunity for goals to be reached and records to be broken for any race, gender or age and I’m happy to be a part of its history.”

Many grip people used to drive the Muni lines we all know and sometimes love. As the cream of the Muni crop, they serve as the city’s ambassadors and guardians of our special piece of history.

I learned me all kinds of stuff about cable cars for a story I wrote in 2010. Trust me, Amber Jones’ skills must be legit.

The unmistakable whirring machinery of our cable-car system run 24/7/365. Think of the grip as a huge set of pliers that reaches underground. The grip (via the impressive strength of the grip person) grabs the constantly moving cable, which is what moves the car.

There’s no cheat sheet for it, either. You have to feel it to know whether it’s in its proper position underground. The grip is loosened when the car needs to stop. To go at top speed, 9.5 miles per hour, the grip is set to hold on as tightly as possible. The nuances of turning vary depending on the hill.

Amber is now part of a very small club of grip women in the cable cars’ 143-year history. She joins the second-ever female grip, Willa Johnson, currently in service. Fannie Barnes, the first woman to serve as a cable car grip, retired in 2002.

SFMTA’s press release (PDF)

Photo by WordShore

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