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“Sprie” Spriestersbach: THE International Railway Traveler

By Eleanor Flagler Hardy

It is with great sadness that we report the death of  D.C. Spriestersbach, one of the most senior members of The Society of International Railway Travelers®. He died on Monday. He had been a member of The Society of IRT for more than 20 years. (He is pictured above with Owen Hardy, IRT Society CEO & Publisher.)

“Sprie,” as he asked everyone to call him, was 94, and was Dean Emeritus of the University of Iowa. He passed away after a brief illness, after a happy week visiting with three generations of his family including his twin 7-year-old great-grandchildren. He lived in his beloved Iowa City, IA, home until his death.

He started traveling with The Society in 1997 and soon became known as a most charming and affable traveler. He booked 16 of the greatest train trips in the world, from the tiny Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. He made the longest rail journey in the world—twice—on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.

Indeed, Sprie traveled thousands of miles with us on trains. Some of our happiest memories traveling are with Sprie, because he was always so fun, upbeat and modest. He loved The Blue Train, the Hiram Bingham, Andean Explorer, Rovos Rail, Trans-Siberian and Venice Simplon-Orient Express.

But hands-down, his favorite was the Royal Scotsman, which he enjoyed for a second time on a Society group tour. He’d first ridden it with his wife, Bette, grandson Matthew Swain and Matthew’s wife Sasha.

“I think the Royal Scotsman has to be at the top,” Sprie told me. “Better than the Blue Train, it was fantastic. They were absolutely marvelous and without being quite as self-conscious…they were easy. They were so good, so authentic and so skilled…it is hard to explain…my grandkids couldn’t believe that you could have a train trip like that.”

Sprie paid Owen and me the ultimate compliment following his last trip with us on our 25th anniversary trip across Siberia on the Golden Eagle. Raising his glass to us at our post-tour celebratory dinner in Moscow, he said he loved traveling with The Society of IRT.  “These people seem to care about their travelers. I mean really care.”

“I think those were some of the happiest times of his life, riding those trains,” said his daughter, Ann Swain, after he died. “You’ve got to know how much he loved going on those trips.”

George Stratton, his best friend for 34 years, said after his career of teacher, administrator, researcher, director of a literacy program, acting university president for 8 months was over, Sprie turned his full focus on traveling the world by train. He was always happiest knowing a grand journey was around the corner. In the last year, “sometimes we would talk about the trips: Which was your favorite? He loved them all.”

A memorial service will be on May 15. Please click here to link to the details.  And please post if you remember traveling with Sprie. We’d love to hear from you.