San Francisco noticed a lot of its most beloved establishments shutter through the pandemic, however one of many saddest losses got here Friday morning as Byron Cobb labored his ultimate shift as a cable automobile gripman after 39 years, seven months and 4 days on the job.

Like Willie Mays to Giants followers or Tony Bennett to music lovers, anybody who rode the cable vehicles knew and adored Cobb. Sure, he riled up his passengers by sporting a dreadful Dodgers cap, however he additionally sported an enormous grin, confirmed up proper on time, bantered with passengers, and appeared to shout hey to each individual on California Road.

Plus, there’s his famed cable automobile bell ringing. His loyal passengers knew whether or not he was cresting Nob Hill simply by the sound of his bell. He gained the town’s cable automobile bell-ringing contest eight occasions and stays its reigning champion, because the pandemic killed it two summers in a row.

However now, the Mayor of California Road is leaving workplace. Although he’s one in all a sort, he’s following the well-worn path of many retirees and transferring to Florida, the place he grew up exterior of Orlando, one in all six children raised by a single mother. He’ll cut up the 12 months between Florida and Madrid, his spouse’s hometown.

Byron Cobb, who’s retiring to Florida after working as a cable automobile gripman on the California line for nearly 4 many years, works his final shift surrounded by household, pals and colleagues.

Nick Otto/Particular to The Chronicle

“The fork is in me — I’m finished,” stated Cobb, 61, who moved to San Francisco at age 20 after visiting an uncle right here who labored for Muni.

Simply after daybreak Friday morning, Cobb pulled Automobile No. 42, inbuilt 1906 and used solely on particular events, out of the barn. It’s his favourite as a result of it’s the identical quantity worn by Jackie Robinson. His spouse, whom he met on a cable automobile, and lots of co-workers joined him.

“Let’s go!” Cobb referred to as. “Let’s get this final present on the street.”

Cobb certified for retirement two years in the past, however wasn’t actually contemplating it till the pandemic struck. He grew more and more pissed off with directors on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Company who he thought had been dismissive of cable vehicles and stored them out of service too lengthy.

The company lastly resumed cable automobile service final month, however it minimize the hours, variety of vehicles on the streets and variety of runs. Meaning fewer alternatives to make greater than base pay, together with by extra time, and cable automobile operators are peeved.

The stress between their union and company brass has grown so unhealthy, a latest assembly between supervisors on the cable automobile barn and directors who work within the company’s headquarters needed to happen on a cable automobile at Fisherman’s Wharf. Normally, these conferences happen on the cable automobile barn, however Arne Hansen, the barn’s superintendent, stated each side agreed it was higher to keep away from having Muni brass and cable automobile operators work together.

Cobb works his last day as a cable car gripman.

Cobb works his final day as a cable automobile gripman.

Nick Otto/Particular to The Chronicle

It displays a wider problem of Muni not restoring service as shortly as some politicians, transit advocates and common riders would really like. The company additionally lacks sufficient bus drivers, cable automobile operators and different staff to completely operate at pre-pandemic ranges.

“If we will’t discover sufficient certified folks to function them, then the vehicles can’t be out,” Hansen stated.

For instance, the town ought to have 184 cable automobile operators however has solely 139 now. A few dozen longtime staff retired through the pandemic, and changing them has proved difficult. The job of a gripman entails working 148-year-old know-how on busy metropolis streets whereas managing a load of passengers. It requires bodily energy, finesse, fast reflexes and good folks abilities — and musical expertise doesn’t damage.

Fred Butler, a former gripman who’s now the assistant division supervisor for the cable vehicles, stated simply 20% of trainees go the check to turn into staff.

“Folks get right here their first day, contact the grip and say, ‘This ain’t for me,’” Butler stated. “They see the glory, however they don’t know what it takes.”

Butler may all the time rely on Cobb to coach the brand new operators — he skilled a whole bunch over his profession — and stated the mayor ought to have given him a key to the town after almost 40 years of service.

Cobb bought a plaque with a small bell on it and an enormous sheet cake, and that was sufficient for him. All he actually wished was to work the California line and see his common passengers one final time.

“I’m only a easy man,” he stated. “I don’t want no fanfare.”

Cobb looks at a gift from the Niederstadt family on his last day on the job.

Cobb appears at a present from the Niederstadt household on his final day on the job.

Nick Otto/Particular to The Chronicle

The legions of on a regular basis individuals who stated goodbye as Cobb moved forwards and backwards from Van Ness Avenue to Market Road made his coronary heart swell. Folks hopped on to offer him fist bumps, hugs and good needs. An aged girl he calls “Ms. V” — her final title is Valentine — waited exterior her condominium to see him go. “Thanks for all the pieces!” she hollered. “Have a fantastic life!”

A lady gave him a pink field of Bob’s doughnuts. A retired resort doorman skipped golf to go for a journey. An architect who’s commuted downtown with him for 9 years referred to as him “probably the most energetic and jolly cable automobile driver on the road.”

Alex Lewis, a constructing supervisor on California Road, lamented, “I really feel like a member of my household is leaving me.”

Jill Niederstadt used to journey with Cobb to work, however moved to Orinda together with her household just a few years in the past. She pulled her sons out of college Friday to drive into the town for Cobb’s final journey. She’s been an enormous fan ever because the day she boarded the cable automobile, very pregnant, and Cobb scolded the passengers that he wasn’t transferring till anyone gave her a seat.

As her boys grew, she may roust them early by saying, “If we’re not out of the home by 7:04, we’ll miss Byron!” He got here to their birthday events and gamely wore no matter Halloween costume they gave him.

“He actually made our time within the metropolis magical,” Niederstadt stated.

Cobb rings the cable car bell on his last day on the job.

Cobb rings the cable automobile bell on his final day on the job.

Nick Otto/Particular to The Chronicle

Because the final shift of his lengthy profession wound down, Cobb pulled Automobile No. 42 again into the barn, a row of cable automobile staff standing and clapping for him. He rang the bell one final time, took off his greasy gripman’s gloves, and he was finished.

“I really feel honored. I really feel blessed. I knew I touched lots of people’s lives, however not like this,” he stated. “The journey’s over now.”

It was a fantastic one, sir. San Francisco gained’t be the identical with out you.