Tuesday, July 23, 2024

David Franz, 71

| June 27, 2024 12:00 AM

David A. Franz – a beloved son, brother, husband, father and friend to so many he met – died peacefully surrounded by his family at his home overlooking Flathead Lake on May 10, 2024. David’s death followed a brief illness. He was 71 years old.

David was born in Bergen County, N.J., in 1952, the first son of Kenneth and Edna Franz. He was followed by three brothers, Gordon, Jonathan and Timothy.

Inspired by Boy Scout trips and family vacations, David was fascinated by the West at an early age and decided to move that way in his early 20s. He initially landed in Kansas where he briefly studied accounting at College of Emporia. It was there he met his future wife, Jeanne Dailey, in October 1973. They were married in June 1975. They had two children soon after, Marisa in 1978 and Aaron in 1980.

While David spent a few years in school, his true calling was the railroad, where he enjoyed a 42-year career that took him from an interlocking tower in the shadow of New York City to a locomotive cab in the mountains of Montana.

He first hired out on the Erie Lackawanna in 1971, where he worked as a tower operator in New York and New Jersey. Later he worked as a conductor for the Santa Fe in Kansas. In 1987, David and family briefly moved to South Dakota, before landing in Missoula, where he joined Montana Rail Link on its third day of operation. David would spend the next 26 years running trains, retiring in 2013 as a locomotive engineer.

At MRL, David gained a reputation among fellow railroad enthusiasts as a friendly face from the cab, always willing to share knowledge and information with people interested in the railroad. Even after retiring, David stayed in close contact with friends at MRL, keeping abreast of the daily happenings. Occasionally, he’d stop in to catch up with friends and grab a cup of coffee. As one colleague remembered, he was “a true railroader to the end still being able to drink yard office coffee.”

He also donned a conductor outfit every December to read the “Polar Express” to his daughter’s classroom and punch every student’s ticket.

David also had a brief but impressive acting career, starring alongside Keith Carradine, JoBeth Williams, Kathy Bates and John Goodman in the 1987 television movie “Murder Ordained.” Despite a breakout performance as a sheriff’s deputy and courtroom observer, David decided to go back to the railroad instead of moving to Hollywood.

David frequently got involved with the communities he called home; he was a deacon at his church in Emporia; volunteered when Aaron was in the Boy Scouts; and was involved with the Northern Pacific Railroad Historical Association. David also loved Montana Grizzlies Football. He and Jeanne (who worked at UM’s College of Forestry & Conservation) had season tickets for years and he almost always wore a maroon Griz shirt.

In 2021, after over three decades of living in Missoula, David and Jeanne moved to their dream home overlooking Flathead Lake. Despite being newcomers, they quickly found a community of friends. David remained busy working on home projects, building a model railroad, and staying in touch with friends.

David is survived by his wife, Jeanne; daughter Marisa and her husband Jon Crerar; son Aaron; his three brothers; nephew Justin and his wife Ashley and son Franklin; and a large group of friends and family who will miss him dearly for years to come.

A Celebration of Dave’s Life is planned for October 4, 2024, from 2-5 p.m. at the Bella Vista Pavilion at Fort Missoula. 

Condolences can be sent to the family via Foster Funeral Home in St. Ignatius.