Jim Wrinn, longtime editor of Trains magazine, died at home on March 30 after a long illness.
Jim Wrinn is probably familiar to readers of Railway track and structures and The age of the railway. Jim was a friend and he helped me get into railroad journalism. It is a sad day for his family, friends, many professional railroad workers and legions of railroad enthusiasts.
Retired VP – Editorial and former Trains Editor Kevin Keefe wrote Jim’s obituary, which appears on trains.com. The obituary is reproduced below with permission from Kevin and Kalmbach Media.
Jim Wrinn directed Trains Magazine with passion
By Kevin P. Keefe | March 30, 2022
WAUKESHA, Wis. — Jim Wrinn, who aspired from his youth to be the editor of The trains magazine and held the post for more than 17 years, died at home on March 30, 2022, after a valiant 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61 years old.
Wrinn’s longevity in the role of editor was second only to that of legendary David P. Morgan, who ran the magazine for more than 33 years and died in 1990 at the age of 62. Morgan’s writing and writing had a profound influence on Wrinn, who began to read The trains in 1967 at the age of 6.
History has left it to Wrinn to preside over a difficult era of transition for The trainswhich Kalmbach Media’s predecessor, Kalmbach Publishing Co., launched in November 1940. As editor, Wrinn was fortunate to serve generations of readers who grew up with the print magazine while expanding the appeal of the magazine to a new digitally oriented audience.
Wrinn has overseen many initiatives that have taken The trains in new directions, including expanded online news coverage; a series of podcasts; an extensive catalog of digital video programming; a solid schedule of The trains– rail tours, excursions and signature events; and many projects to support railroad preservation. His tenure included a gala celebration of the magazine’s 75th anniversary in Milwaukee in November 2016, attended by hundreds of loyal readers.
Wrinn also showed a flair for the big moment, capitalizing on important news developments and effectively utilizing a variety of media platforms. Case in point: the revival of the Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” #4014. Over the course of three years, Wrinn oversaw global coverage that included online news reports and numerous articles in The trains; two special issues of Big Boy; live video updates from the field; and updates from the 4014’s release party in Ogden, Utah in May 2019. It all culminated in the book “Union Pacific’s Big Boys”, published by Kalmbach the same year with an introduction by the publisher himself.
Become the editor of The trains was an idea planted by Wrinn’s first college adviser, who in 1979 asked the young journalism student what his dream job would be. Wrinn’s parents had previously encouraged his railway journalism, giving him a 35mm camera in 1977 and supporting numerous trips to view, edit and photograph the railways.
Wrinn was born on March 21, 1961, in the mountain town of Franklin, North Carolina, and spent his childhood there. He studied journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he worked for the college newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel. After graduating, he worked in daily newspapers in Gastonia, North Carolina, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, before joining the staff of The Charlotte Observer, one of the South’s leading newspapers, where he worked from 1986 to 2004 in roles ranging from regional reporter to weekend editor. .
He has also authored or co-authored five books on railways, including “Steam’s Camelot”, a definitive history of the Southern Railway’s steam programs and its successor Norfolk Southern, published in September 2000 by TLC Publishing.
Wrinn’s first photo in Trains appeared in the October 1982 issue, fittingly a news photo of Graham County Railroad Shay No. 1925, a landmark locomotive throughout its life. His first byline appeared in December 1989, reporting on the effects of Hurricane Hugo on the Southeast Railroads the previous September. He went on to write numerous articles before joining the team on October 27, 2004, a significant date given Trains’ (and Kalmbach’s) celebrated address at 1027 N. Seventh Street in downtown Milwaukee.
His home state of North Carolina held a special place in Wrinn’s heart, something he regularly conveyed to his readers. As a writer, he was never more touching than in his love letter to the famous Loops of the old Southern Railway on the line between Old Fort and Ridgecrest, 13 miles of scenic but challenging railroad, which is now part of the Piedmont Division of Norfolk Southern. His story “The Loops at Old Fort” appeared in the September 2006 issue.
“Because the Old Fort level is located between Saluda and Clinchfield, I often think of it as a middle child,” Wrinn wrote. “He doesn’t demand attention like the daredevil, and he’s not graceful like the athlete. Old Fort is somewhere in between, doing what it does without drawing attention to itself – even though it should.
Never content to observe reporters from the sidelines, Wrinn has been actively involved in historic railroad preservation, particularly at the North Carolina Museum of Transportation in Spencer, where he has volunteered since 1986. He was recently vice president of the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation. .
Wrinn’s passing is keenly felt in the railroad industry, especially among the many writers, photographers and historians with whom he collaborated. Their relationship was special, born of both a love of the railway and of storytelling. One of them is Fred W. Frailey, for much of Wrinn’s era, a columnist and blogger for The trains.
“Every writer wants an editor, a boss, who says yes,” Frailey said. “Forget what ‘yes’ means – it could mean anything. Jim Wrinn always said ‘yes’, even when it was no because he made it look like it was yes. I like the guy.
Similar praise comes from Ron Flanary, one of the magazine’s most prolific contributors and someone with similar regional roots.
“Jim and I shared more than a passion for the railroad, we were close friends and native Appalachians – a pedigree we shared with great pride,” Flanary recalls. “Our verbal exchanges were always relaxed, as we shared an accent that dates back to Shakespeare and was recognized by language scholars for its authenticity and wit. Jim was an exceptional writer, in the line of the late David P. Morgan.
One of Wrinn’s oldest friends is Jackson McQuigg, currently vice president of properties at the Atlanta History Center. “No one could make friends like Jim,” McQuigg says. “With his slightly slanted smile and a folky North Carolina mountain accent in his voice, Jim could befriend anyone – and he did, from Fortune 500 railroad bosses to die-hard enthusiasts of the humblest secondary lines. Throughout his life, Jim also proved he could connect us all through his accessible writing and energetic preservation work.
Jim Wrinn was proud to be part of a long line of Trains editors and said so in a candid self-assessment published in 2009. “I couldn’t write like Morgan,” Wrinn wrote. “I couldn’t be a diesel locomotive expert like Dave Ingles, I couldn’t write as eloquently as Kevin P. Keefe, I couldn’t be an industry insider like Mark Hemphill. But I could bring great enthusiasm to the work, a great love for the subject, and the passion and curiosity of a journalist. The other guys put together fantastic numbers of Trains, but no one has ever had a better time doing that job than me.
Wrinn was proud that the other staff members were both friends and colleagues, and he admired the working railroad workers for their tireless efforts. He was proud of his colleagues who graduated to work in other capacities with Kalmbach Media, and those who went on to work in the railroad and other industries.
“I believe we’ve left Trains better than we found it, and in the hands of great journalists who will carry on the tradition and make it even greater,” Wrinn said. “Trains has been a great brand for over 80 years, and it will continue as long as steel wheels on steel rails fascinate.”
Wrinn is survived by his wife, Catherine Kratville-Wrinn, their “raildog” Millie, many cousins and many close friends whom he has often said he considers brothers, sisters or children whom he had never had. The family requests that memorials be made at the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation at PO Box 44, Spencer, NC 28159, or at www.nctrans.org.
Text and photographs reproduced with permission from Kalmbach Media.