What better way to spend the day than riding the rails along the gorgeous Gaviota Coast, first high in a dome car, then jouncing, bouncing in the open-air vestibule between cars, the wind whipping your hair?
I joined folks from the Gaviota Conservancy on an excursion Saturday in preparation for Tuesday’s crunch-time Board of Supervisors’ consideration of hoped-for adoption of the Gaviota Plan.
That’s the long-awaited blueprint aimed at preservation of the coastline between Goleta and Vandenberg AFB. The conservancy says the plan will improve the balance between “agriculture and resource protection, strengthen visual protection, and prevent inappropriate industrialization.”
So I climbed aboard the private charter “Silver Splendor” dome car Saturday morning, and we rumbled toward San Luis Obispo. It was built in 1956 during the heyday of “romance of the rails” train travel for the Chicago-Denver run, retired in the 1980s and then renovated.
Swinging and swaying in the dome car, we rolled past the sites of former Chumash villages and whistled our way through fog banks once we cleared Goleta.
At the Tajiguas landfill, where a mountain of garbage rises¸ the Gaviota Conservancy is vehemently opposed to what it calls the county’s “risky” investment of $120 million to build an anaerobic digestion facility to convert trash, based on what the conservancy considers a dubious technology.
We swung away from Highway 101 at the massive Hollister Ranch paradise, restricted to owners only, although surfers’ boats floated offshore. Then came the wind-swept, 25,000-acre Cojo-Jalama Ranch, formerly the Bixby Ranch¸ purchased a few years ago for a reported $136 million by an East Coast investment firm, which has led to worries by environmental groups about possible future development.
Rolling past seaside Jalama Beach County Park, famous for its Jalama Burgers, we passed around sandwiches and wine and found ourselves in Vandenberg AFB, about the only way the public can see the rocket base.
Bright sun glistened on the water and someone spotted a whale. Then another fog bank and before long we had turned toward SLO-town and a stop at the old station before heading back.
To maintain order, there was veteran conductor Steven P. Phares, resplendent in a dark blue uniform.
The Central Coast Flyer charter program of vintage cars also includes the 1949 Pullman-built “Overland Trail” club-lounge car which, I was told by program manager Terry Remick, includes an authentic barbershop. There’s also the 1950 Pullman-built first-class “Pacific Trail” long-distance chair car.
For more information on these day trips, running once or twice a month from Santa Barbara’s Amtrak station to S.L.O., you can reach Remick at firstname.lastname@example.org.