Rail advocate, county exec George Gaekle dies at 88

George Gaekle, a former Stanislaus County administrator and one of the region's most knowledgeable and passionate train advocates, died Monday. He was 88.

"He would climb a canyon and wait an hour or two just to get a picture of a train," his son, Don Gaekle, said Tuesday.

His father was the county's chief administrative officer from 1970 until his retirement in 1979, and served as interim city manager of Patterson in 1991 and of Escalon in 1985 and 1993. As a consultant, George Gaekle helped seven California towns incorporate into cities, including Lathrop in 1989 as well as Dublin, Danville and San Ramon.

Former Stanislaus County supervisors Ray Simon and Nick Blom praised Mr. Gaekle's intelligence and administrative skills.

Mr. Gaekle served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War, and was chief administrative officer of Butte County when Rick Robinson, Stanislaus County's current chief executive officer, was born there in 1953.

But Mr. Gaekle, a Modesto resident for 40 years, was better known in recent decades for his contagious train fever.

"He was an enthusiastic and significant advocate of all things rail," said Jeff Grover, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. Mr. Gaekle belonged to many passenger rail clubs and associations and was an ardent cheerleader, always ready to pitch the benefits of trains.

"I've had a lifelong passion for rail passenger transportation, starting at the age of 4, watching streetcars pass by my Des Moines home," Mr. Gaekle said March 30 while accepting a commendation from county supervisors. They gave him warm applause and a model train mounted in a shadowbox as thanks for serving as the county's representative to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee since its creation 13 years ago.

He was relieved of his duties at the meeting eight weeks ago, but other county officials could not attend a committee meeting last week, so Mr. Gaekle went in their place. He planned to brief them at a meeting Monday and even called that morning to confirm, but died at breakfast.

"Up to the moment he passed away, he was doing rail business," said Stacey Mortensen, executive director of the San Joaquin Rail Commission. "That's just George."

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Iris; daughters Ann Gaekle of Modesto and Mary "Meg" Gaekle of Lomita; and son Don Gaekle of Modesto.

Service details are pending.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.