Denny Anspach, who led creation of California State Railroad Museum, dies (corrected)

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Denny and Diane Anspach in 2017.
David Lustig

When it comes to railroad preservation, it would be difficult to think of a more auspicious encounter than the one that unfolded July 13, 1970, in the rococo dining room of author Lucius Beebe’s private car Gold Coast, parked that Monday night at Sacramento’s Southern Pacific station.

There, Ronald Reagan, the state’s governor and the nation’s future president, met a man equal to the occasion: Denny Anspach, a local physician leading an effort to create a major museum centered around a collection of locomotives and cars owned by the Pacific Coast Chapter, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

Anspach somehow got what he wanted that night. Soon, the state’s budget included an allocation for what we now know as the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM).

That was Denny Anspach, always charming, always persuasive. He went on to become one of CSRM’s great champions, helping lead it to world-class status. He was still serving on the CRSM Foundation’s board when he died Sunday of cancer. He was 86.

Anspach was born in Chicago in 1934 and lived at first on the city’s south shore, where, as he told the Sacramento Business Journal in 2018, his family’s apartment “looked right out on the main line of the Illinois Central Railroad.” His father, a private physician who also taught at the University of Chicago, counted professional railroaders among the family’s friends. Asked how long he had loved trains, Anspach answered “Ah! What’s the moment of the dawn?”

The family later moved to the suburb of Riverside, where Anspach fell under the spell of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s “racetrack” main line, which cut through the middle of town. He also got started in the model railroad hobby.

Anspach went on to graduate from Stanford University Medical School in 1960 and briefly worked for a physician in Spirit Lake, Iowa, before moving to Sacramento in 1966. There, he established a widely respected practice with Radiological Associates of Sacramento, a career that spanned 46 years.

He also continued to nurture his love of trains. He became a passionate promoter of Sacramento’s own place in railroad history — it was the western terminus of the Central Pacific Railroad of 1869 — and was a founder of the Sacramento Trust for Historic Preservation. He was a prime author of a 200-page master plan that set the stage for the 1976 creation of the state’s railroad museum, originally located in the replica Central Pacific station in the Old Sacramento historic district.

Anspach had been a member of the Pacific Coast Chapter since 1957 and played a pivotal role in conveying the chapter’s collection to the new museum, which remains a core CSRM asset. Among the gems received by the museum were Virginia & Truckee 4-4-0 No. 12, Genoa, built by Baldwin in 1873; Northwestern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 112, built by Alco in 1908; SP observation car El Dorado, a 1924 Pullman heavyweight; and the Gold Coast, the fateful car from that Reagan dinner of 1970.

Anspach’s work in railroad preservation did not go unnoticed. He was a prominent if unofficial spokesman for CSRM during its huge Railfair celebrations of 1981, 1991, and 1999, later working behind the scenes as a longtime director of the museum’s Foundation. In 2014 he was awarded the Gerald M. Best Senior Achievement Award by the R&LHS.

Anspach loved Iowa from his early years in Spirit Lake and continued to maintain a second home in the state, frequently traveling there by train. The journey had special meaning. “I like to travel by train as often as I can and I never travel by plane when I’m in Europe,” he told the Business Journal. “Always by train. You learn so much about people and a country when you’re not in a hurry to get your trip over with.”

He is survived by his second wife, Rev. Diane Anspach, a son, and a daughter, as well as two grandchildren. Anspach’s wife of 59 years, Carol Jacobs Anspach, a former school psychologist, died in 2017.

— Corrected at 11:35 a.m. to update information on survivors, photo identification; date of R&LHS award corrected to 2014 on Sept. 23.
Trains News Wire regrets the errors.

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