Rail fans and history buffs will soon have a unique opportunity to experience one of the most heralded of American rail cars.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, the 1937 Santa Fe lounge car Acoma will return to active service. The South Coast Railroad Museum has chartered Acoma on that date, for a scenic day trip up the coast to San Luis Obispo. A limited number of seats are available for purchase by the general public.

Acoma has an impressive pedigree. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad started upgrading its premier train, the Super Chief, “The Train of the Stars,” to new lightweight “streamliner” cars in 1937. It began with just one train set, consisting of eight stainless-steel cars manufactured by the Budd Co. Acoma was one of those first eight cars.

The new streamlined Super Chief traveled between Los Angeles and Chicago, making one round trip a week. The streamlined Super Chief was pulled by diesel locomotives sporting the now-famous “warbonnet” paint scheme. Each car, including Acoma, featured an interior uniquely decorated with a Southwest motif.

Today, Acoma is the only car from this first stainless-steel Super Chief train set that remains in active service. Only two of Acoma’s sister cars survive: the dining car, Cochiti, which is showcased at the California State Railroad Museum, and the observation car, Navajo, proudly displayed at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Passengers on the Jan. 19 trip will get to ride on two historic rail cars, Acoma and Overland Trail, a 1949 club lounge, built by the Pullman company and used by the Southern Pacific railroad on the San Francisco Overland train. All passengers will ride one of the cars in the morning and the other during the afternoon return, changing cars during the midday stopover in San Luis Obispo. While aboard Overland Trail, passengers will be serenaded by talented acoustic guitarist Bill Prince, with American train ballads, blues and country tunes.

Museum Director Gary Coombs and a member of the museum’s corps of volunteer guide-interpreters will be aboard to provide narrative and answer questions about local history, points of interest, things to do and the natural history of the area traveled. The public is invited to participate in this unique travel experience, offered for a fraction of the usual cost of private rail car travel.

Passengers will be able to board the train at either the Santa Barbara or Goleta Amtrak stations. The scheduled departure is 10:22 a.m. in Santa Barbara and 10:34 a.m. in Goleta, arriving in San Luis Obispo at 1 p.m. The return trip will begin at 1:55 p.m., arriving in Santa Barbara at 4:32 p.m. and Goleta at 4:17 p.m.

Besides the chance to ride both historic rail cars, the trip will be a great opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views and sites along the beautiful route between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, including the majestic Gaviota Coast, the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, the legendary surfing beaches of the Hollister and Bixby ranches, Point Conception, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Guadalupe Dunes, Pismo Beach, the Edna Valley wine country, a number of state and county beach parks, and more.

Tickets for the Acoma Inaugural Trip excursion are only $89. Save $3 per ticket by purchasing through the museum’s online store by clicking here, where additional trip information can also be found. Reservations may also be made by calling Terry, the museum’s reservation specialist, at 805.680.0397 (9 a.m. to 7 p.m. only, please).

The ticket price includes soft drinks and light snacks; passengers are responsible for any additional food.

— Gary Coombs is director of the South Coast Railroad Museum.