Denny Anspach

Denny Sykes Anspach


On September 20 my brother Denny took his last breath while at home in Sacramento, CA. He was 86 and was felled by what began as a tiny skin cancer.

My brother was two years ahead of me in school and was blessed with a nuclear intellect. While he skipped two years of hi school for college, I struggled to inflate my rubber duck.

In Sacramento after graduating from Stanford, medical school he and his friends acquired access to some decrepit buildings and had started to fill them with donated old but noteworthy railroad locomotives and cars.

One evening he and his then wife, Carol, had Governor and Mrs. Reagan to dinner aboard one of the collections private “palace”rail cars while being towed along by an 1863 steam locomotive that had witnessed the completion of America’s first transcontinental railroad. After dinner the governor allowed as to how the state might be remiss if it lost the opportunity to support their fledgling train collection. The result was Denny’s crowning achievement: The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

During the last gasps of a functioning rail line at Okoboji one of my brother’s engineer friends invited us to share the cab of a Milwaukee Road locomotive he was to drive south from Spirit Lake through Spencer. We boarded in Spirit Lake at the old red depot and growled, swayed and jerked down those old crooked, rusty tracks to the south. At the lake it seemed the locomotive hesitated slightly before tiptoeing onto the ancient wood trestle. I held my breath….. locomotives aren’t noted for their buoyancy. This was a really exciting time and I know my brother had to be smiling.

I’ll bet he still is.