The First Female Was Hired as a Gripman in 1998
San Francisco’s cable cars take two people to operate: a conductor, and a gripman, who—among other tasks—handles a 365-pound device that literally grabs the cable as it rattles under the track at 9.5 mph. “Gripping” a cable car is a highly demanding physical task that requires upper body strength, delicate balance, and superb eye-hand coordination.
Fannie Mae Barnes was 52 when she took Muni’s 25-day grip course in late 1997. She’d been a conductor for six years – but no woman had ever made it past the first day of training. Barnes passed, and became the first woman to operate a cable car grip in January 1998.
“The cable car itself weighs eight tons, empty,” Barnes recently told an interviewer. “It's a miniature train. A lot of guys try to muscle the grip, but it's really more a finesse thing.”
In 2002, Barnes carried the Olympic torch up Hyde Street as part of the relay leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.