WAUKESHA, Wis. — Jim Wrinn, who aspired since his youth to be the editor of Trains magazine and served in the role for more than 17 years, died at home on March 30, 2022, after a valiant 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
Wrinn’s longevity in the editor’s role was second only to that of the legendary David P. Morgan, who led the magazine for more than 33 years and died in 1990 at age 62. Morgan’s editorship and writings deeply influenced Wrinn, who began reading Trains in 1967 at age 6.
History left it to Wrinn to preside over a challenging, transitional era for Trains, which Kalmbach Media predecessor Kalmbach Publishing Co. launched in November 1940. As editor in chief, Wrinn was fortunate to serve generations of readers who grew up on the print magazine while at the same time broadening the magazine’s appeal to a new digitally oriented audience.
Wrinn oversaw numerous initiatives that took Trains in new directions, including expanded online news coverage; a series of podcasts; a large catalog of digital video programing; a robust schedule of Trains-branded railroad tours, excursions, and events; and numerous projects to support railroad preservation. His tenure included a gala celebration of the 75th anniversary of the magazine in Milwaukee in November 2015, attended by hundreds of loyal readers.
Wrinn also showed a flair for the big moment, capitalizing on important news developments and effectively using a variety of media platforms. Case in point: the revival of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” No. 4014. Over the course of three years, Wrinn oversaw blanket coverage that included online reporting and numerous articles in Trains; two Big Boy special issues; live video updates from the field; and updates from the 4014’s coming-out party at Ogden, Utah, in May 2019. It all culminated in the book “Union Pacific’s Big Boys,” published by Kalmbach that same year with an introduction by the editor himself.
Becoming the editor of Trains was an idea planted by Wrinn’s first college advisor, who in 1979 asked the young journalism student what his dream job would be. Wrinn’s parents had already encouraged his railroad journalism by giving him a 35mm camera in 1977 and supporting numerous trips to see, ride, and photograph railroads.
James G. Wrinn was born March 21, 1961, in the mountain town of Franklin, N.C., 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 at daily newspapers in Gastonia, N.C., and Fayetteville, N.C., before joining the staff at The Charlotte Observer, one of the South’s leading newspapers, where he worked 1986-2004 in roles ranging from regional reporter to weekend city desk editor.
He also wrote or co-authored five railroad books, including “Steam’s Camelot,” a definitive history of the steam programs of the Southern Railway and successor Norfolk Southern, published in September 2000 by TLC Publishing.
Wrinn’s first photo in Trains was published in the October 1982 issue, appropriately a news photo of Graham County Railroad Shay No. 1925, a touchstone locomotive throughout his life. His first byline appeared in December 1989, a news story about the effects of Hurricane Hugo on Southeastern railroads the previous September. He went on to write numerous features before joining the staff on Oct. 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 conveyed regularly to his readers. As a writer, he was never more touching than in his love letter to the former Southern Railway’s famous Loops on the line between Old Fort and Ridgecrest, 13 miles of scenic but challenging railroad, now part of Norfolk Southern’s Piedmont Division. His story “The Loops at Old Fort” appeared in the September 2006 issue.
“Because Old Fort grade is situated between Saluda and the Clinchfield, I often think of it as if it were a middle child,” wrote Wrinn. “It doesn’t demand attention like the daredevil, and it’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 simply to observe from the journalistic sidelines, Wrinn was actively involved in railroad historical preservation, especially at the North Carolina Museum of Transportation in Spencer, where he volunteered since 1986. He recently served as a vice president at the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation.
Wrinn’s passing is being keenly felt across railroading, especially among the many writers, photographers, and professional railroaders with whom he collaborated. Theirs was a special kinship, born equally of a love of railroading and storytelling. One of them is Wick Moorman, former CEO at Amtrak and chairman of Norfolk Southern, as well as a longtime friend of Wrinn’s.
“When I first met Jim years ago, we immediately hit it off, not only because of our shared interest in the railroad industry but also because of our strong affinity for the Southern Railway,” said Moorman. “When Jim became editor of Trains, we all felt that he would do an excellent job, and, if anything, he exceeded those expectations. His passing is a loss not only to all of us who knew him, but also to everyone who has a passion, either personal or professional or both, for railroads.”
From the writer’s perspective comes this from Fred W. Frailey, for much of Wrinn’s era a columnist and blogger for Trains: “Every writer wants an editor, a boss, who says yes,” said Frailey. “Forget what ‘yes’ means — it can mean anything. Jim Wrinn always said ‘yes,’ even when it was no because he made it seem like yes. I love the guy.”
Similar encomiums come 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 railroading, we were close friends and native Appalachians — a pedigree we shared with great pride,” recalls Flanary. “Our verbal exchanges were always relaxed, as we shared an accent that dates to Shakespeare and was recognized by language scholars for its authenticity and wit. Jim was an exceptional writer, in the tradition of the late David P. Morgan.”
One of Wrinn’s oldest friends is Jackson McQuigg, currently vice president-properties at the Atlanta History Center. “No one could make friends like Jim,” says McQuigg. “With his slightly sideways smile and a folksy North Carolina mountains twang in his voice, Jim could befriend anyone — and he did, from Fortune 500 railroad bosses to dyed-in-the-wool devotees of the humblest of short lines. Throughout his life, Jim also proved that he could connect all of us through his approachable 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 could not write like Morgan,” wrote Wrinn. “I could not be a diesel locomotive expert like Dave Ingles, I could not write as eloquently as Kevin P. Keefe, I could not be an industry insider like Mark Hemphill. But I could bring great enthusiasm to the job, a great love for the subject, and the passion and curiosity of a journalist. The other guys put together fantastic issues of Trains, but nobody ever had a better time in this job than me.”
Wrinn was proud that fellow staff members were friends as well as colleagues, and he admired working railroaders for their tireless efforts. He was proud of his co-workers who graduated to work at other titles with Kalmbach Media, and those who went to work in the railroad business and other industries.
“I believe we have left Trains better than we found it, and in the hands of great journalists who will carry on the tradition and make it ever greater,” Wrinn said. “Trains is a great brand for more than 80 years, and it will continue as long as steel wheels on steel rails fascinate.”
Wrinn is survived by his wife, Cate Kratville-Wrinn, their “raildog” Millie, numerous cousins, and many close friends whom he often said he considered to be the brothers or sisters or children he never had.
Funeral services will be private.
— Updated March 31 at 9:40 a.m. CDT to include comment from Wick Moorman.
79 thoughts on “Jim Wrinn led Trains Magazine with passion”
A tremendous loss to the rail enthusiast community. My condolences.
Lovely tribute. I have enjoyed the “fruits” of Mr. Wrinn’s labour for some time. Condolences to friend’s and family.
Jim Wrinn……..Jim gone at 61, David P Morgan at 62. Interesting how both were so revered and were taken away on their last train so “Early Arrival” at end of the line……i.e. Ahead of schedule someone said.
Condolences to all who were his personal friends.
For me, one of the best recollections of Wrinn, was written by Fred Frailey. “ “Every writer wants an editor, a boss, who says yes,” said Frailey. “Forget what ‘yes’ means — it can mean anything. Jim Wrinn always said ‘yes,’ even when it was no because he made it seem like yes. I love the guy.” endmrw0405221749
As the son of the last Operating Vice president of the Western Maryland Railway, George M. Leilich, I badly wanted to meet Jim Wrinn on the February 2022 trip he organized for the 1309, but surgery prevented that. I wanted to personally thank him for the outstanding efforts he and Trains Magazine made to restore the 1309. Without him, his passion, and his gift of writing, the WMSR never may have raised all the money it needed. After helping to move Dad’ business car 204 to the WMSR several years ago (one of the oldest Pullman built steel palace cars once used by members of the Vanderbilt family), I’m motivated to lead the charge to restoring it to operating condition. It will be a much harder effort without the marvelous support of Jim. Looks like I’m going to have to wait to thank him when I join him in Heaven. I pray for comfort and peace for his wife and family.
Three unforgettable Jim Wrinn moments:
In the engineer’s seat aboard the Southern E8 at NCTM.
Showing off his wonderful Shay somewhere in North Carolina.
Trying to be “incognito” on a TVRM steam excursion between Bristol and Bull’s Gap TN.
See you at the station by-and-by old friend.
My sincere condolences to Jim’s family and friends, and to Trains magazine staff. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim a couple times; he was a gentleman who made me feel welcome to be in his company.
It is heartbreaking reading his cover story about Western Maryland Scenic’s 1309 in the latest issue of Trains, as well as seeing his mark throughout the magazine, knowing that he will never write again.
Jim was the same age as me. Too young to go. Condolences to the family, and Rest In Peace, Jim. No more pain, now.
I was fortunate to meet Jim a few times here in Nashville. It was always a pleasure talking to him and discussing the NC&StL locomotive No. 576. Thank you Jim for taking an interest in our project at Nashville Steam. You will be missed.
I first met Jim when he came to Montreal for the Association of Railway Museums Convention held in 2013. We spent a lot of time together during the convention. He was kind sympathetic and well informed on all things about the railways. He was really impressed with our railway museum Exporail.
Blessings to Cate, family and colleagues. He was a wonderful person.
Jim and I were a year apart and he lived in NC and I lived in VA, but we both lived along the Southern Railway. I got to see the “Southern Crescent ” in the morning and the evening, but he had to see it in the wee hours hahah. He encouraged my writing and led me to Angela and Carl, whose friendship and mentoring I appreciate greatly. I will miss him.
I made a YouTube Southern Railway tribute with some of my clips. If you liked the Southern in the 70’s , you’ll love this.
RIP Editor Wrinn. It’s hard to follow so many eloquent comments, that have already said what I am thinking.
I first learned of Jim’s passing from a former boss who worked with Jim in Charlotte and stayed in touch over the years. In 2019, I met Cate and Jim on a photo line among scores of like-minded fans watching the restored Big Boy steam under the iconic C&NW coaling tower at Clyman Jct., Wisconsin. I told Jim I was a lifelong reader, and he invited me to visit next time I came back to Wisconsin. A genuine offer that I’ll now sadly miss. Blessings to Cate, family, colleagues, and all of us in the great Trains Magazine fraternity.
I met Jim Wrinn when I was passing out hotdogs at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Day some years back. I recognized him, mentioning his name and title, “Editor Wrinn.” Few in the mainly local crowd knew who he was. He must have appreciated that I recognized him as he said, “I’ve got something for you.” Later that afternoon, as we were cleaning us, he handed me a copy of Train’s special narrow-gauge issue. He didn’t have to do that; what a gracious gesture, one I will never forget. My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. He was a true gentleman.
Rest in peace Jim.
Jim was one of the kindest and most generous human beings I’ve ever met. A good man, a good writer, a good story teller, a good editor, a good friend.
A number of years ago, Jim spent a morning in my classrooms at the University of Tennessee. It was such a treat for me, and the students, to hear him talk about railroading, the changing world of media and magazines, and so much more. His kindness will not be forgotten.
He always told me to get in touch if I visited Milwaukee. I did, and he promptly invited me to visit him at the Trains offices in Waukesha, showed me around, introduced me to the Trains team, shared some good stories, and asked my opinions on all things Trains.
Jim was always learning, always interesting, and always interested. Jim will be deeply missed.
I met Jim when I was with NS and he was with the Charlotte Observer. He was a fine gentleman. We kept in touch over the years and after my retirement encouraged me to pen some short stories of humorous moments in my career of which Trains has published.
My condolences to Cate and his Trains family.
So sad and shocked to hear of the passing of Mr.Jim Wrinn. His love for his job and railroading seems to have kept him working while battling this terrible desease. I only met Jim once,at the Trains 75th Gala but I feel like so many others that I lost a very close and dear friend. I am proud to be part of what Jim called “Trains Nation”.RIP Mr.Wrinn
Condolences to his family and the fine people at Trains. He will be missed.
Never met Jim–directly, but his passion was evident through his work. I know I’ll miss him. Enormous shoes to fill.
RIP, Jim. We may have crossed paths only once, but it was great having TRAINS online as well as on paper.
In a year with more than it’s share of sad news, still trying to accept today’s news. I had the chance to meet Jim at a few events, and he seemed like the type of person you couldn’t help not liking. TRAINS has weathered well and transitioned to one of those few magazines I love to read cover to cover under his stewardship. And you couldn’t find a more passionate and enthusiastic cheerleader for the preservation and railfan community.
First Dave Ingles (Oct 2021); now Jim Wrinn. They have left some big shoes to fill.
My thoughts and prayers to Jim’s family, friends and co-workers at Kalmbach. He’s left quite a legacy behind and will be greatly missed.
How sad. Under Jim’s leadership, I found Trains magazine to be far more interesting than it had been under any previous editor since Morgan. RIP.
I met Jim on two excursion trips here in the east, and again at Kalmbach’s 75th; also had the pleasure of working with him indirectly on several articles.. A fine man, charming and personable, and hugely talented. My condolences to his family, may his soul rest in peace.
With this terrible tragedy let us continue to remember the others — George H. Drury, DPM, JDI and Rosemary Etringer (hope I spelled her name correctly) all from Kalmbach, and the many contributors who have passed on.
Every time I read a history book that seems to have needed a better editor, I think of TRAINS MAGAZINE, which has NEVER needed a better editor.
So devastated of Jim Wrinn’s passing. His legacy and history will be remembered as one of the finest achievements and Golden Spike 150 celebration with Big Boy 4014 is definitely THE greatest highlights for anyone’s lifetime. I admire Trains Magazine crew with Kevin Keefe and Jim Wrinn for the best reading history and learning more from them. There will never be a replacement for Jim Wrinn and my thoughts and prayers are out for his family right now. A true real life railfan.
My condolences to both the Wrinn family, friends, and colleagues at Trains Magazine. May he rest in peace.
OMG! My condolences to the family of a true and great railfan!
I almost missed this news. I had read the NEWS WIRE before this was added and when I was looking at Fridays N.W., I looked at the last previous days item and was hit with this. I have been reading TRAINS since it started. In 1941, I was six years old and my dad worked for the MoPac in Milwaukee. He brought the magazine home shortly after it started and collected them until he died. I have read them for over 80 years. I am truly saddened to learn that Mr. Wrinn died at such a young age. He had just been with the WM steam engine and was looking so happy that makes this so hard to comprehend. He has been such a great force for the magazine. May he rest in peace.
My condolences to the Wrinn family. I enjoyed Mr. Wrinns editorials.
Met Mr. Wrinn twice at fan events. Pleasure to speak with him. He was one of the greatest advocates for our interests. I shall miss him. Blessings to his family.
For over half a century one of the biggest events in each month is the arrival of TRAINS MAGAZINE in my mailbox. Each time we lose a TRAINS staffer it’s like losing a friend or maybe even one of the family. As it happens TRAINS is my home town publication (Town of Brookfield, Waukesha County). With each obituary I say to myself, dammit, these people work just down the street from me, how is it that I can’t walk a mile down Bluemound Road to express my gratitude for them making each month of my life more worth living.
So sorry to read this. May he experience green lights and a great ride. My thoughts are with his wife and family. Same to all the staff that worked with Jim. A great loss.
G-D Speed Jim! Thank You for being a great story teller. The story of Railroading itself! GBU you and your family always!
What a shock! We have lost one of our own. Rest In Peace, Jim.
What a shock! Rest In Peace, Jim.
As has already been expressed by so many others, I am saddened over Jim’s passing. Besides leading “Trains” through the difficult transformation all print media has undergone, Jim’s unwavering enthusiasm for railroading, especially the restorations of UP 4014 and WM 1309, will always be appreciated by this railfan. I offer my sympathies to Jim’s family, friends, and coworkers. Of the latter, I find it particularly sad that within a span of 18 months, Kevin P. Keefe has had to prepare another tribute to a fallen friend. Thank you, Kevin, for honoring both J.D. Ingles and Jim Wrinn so well.
There’s never going to be a light that shines that bright again.
well thats sad R I P always loved his videos hope the magazine survives
I was shocked to read of Jim’s passing. As an almost life-long reader of Trains (my first subscription begin when I was in eighth grade), I feel that the entire Trains staff are my friends. Jim was passionate about railroading and I always enjoyed reading his work.
Sad to hear. He leaves behind a great legacy and the next Editor should have a pretty smooth transition, Jim already paved the way for Staff and Railfans worldwide.
oh no! RIP Jim.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Jim, although we may have turned his head at the start of the Big Boy chase to Evanston the Sunday after the Golden Spike ceremony back in 2019. He was probably wondering “Who brings a Maserati to a train chase?” We have Enterprise Rent-A-Car to thank for that after they ran out of $42/day cars and gave us a free upgrade. I’ll borrow my sentiments from Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. Rick Corman flew to Memphis to pick Calipari up after he took the UK job, and they became best of friends to the point that Corman was the only person allowed to wear red while attending a UK practice. Upon Rick’s passing, Calipari said “We’ve lost one of our best.” Coach couldn’t have said it better and the words apply here as well. Condolences to his family, friends, and the railroading industry as a whole as we have all lost one of our best. He will be remembered in Nashville when NC&StL 576 takes to the rails in a few years. To quote former CN president Paul Tellier upon his retirement, “Don’t remember me for what I did, but what I left.”
Oh no. Not the story I expected to find in News Wire. So sorry to hear this.
I’m guessing he would get a laugh out of this gaff – in this article. “Wrinn at the Trains “81 for 81” event at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in October 2022. Under his editorship, the magazine broadened its scope to include events like photo charters. (Cate Kratville-Wrinn)” Having said that, Trains to me is THE journal that helps me as a railfan understand what’s going on out there, and he made sure of that and many other things for many years. RIP!
RIP. Although I never met Jim (my only connection was his appearances on Trains’ Friday video summaries of the week’s railroad news), I feel his loss. He certainly seemed like a fun guy full of a wealth of knowledge.
So sad to hear of his passing. my condolences to Cate Kratville-Wrinn and his entire family. I will miss his “From the Editor” column and the insight he had in the industry. Green Signals on your journey. You will be missed.
So sad to hear of Jim’s passing.
Rest in Peace.
Oh my gosh. This is truly a sad day for anyone with a passion for rails. Rest in Peace Mr. Wrinn. Clear blocks all the way to the Heavenly Roundhouse.
Walter Rich (President of NYSW) who was a railfan friendly rail exec which is rare also passed away from Pancreatic Cancer at age 61 in 2007. I have lost 5 friends due to so far incurable form of Cancer
He obviously did not let the disease that ultimately consumed him stop him from living life ti the fullest. I never had more than a chance of saying hello in passing him at Spencer. But his reminiscing about railroading in Western North Carolina always held a special place for me. Though I am a Buckeye by birth and currently live in Ohio, I spent 12 years in NC. And nothing I loved more than spending time in those mountains and reading about the love and joy Jim wrote of the railroading there.
Words cannot describe the sorrow I have after hearing Jim passed away. As was stated in previous posts, Jim was a true gentleman and friend to everyone he encountered. I was honored to take Jim on a tour of the NS Wabash line from Ft. Wayne to Lafayette, IN, chasing an October 2013 Sunday morning NKP 765 westbound excursion. The early morning air was still at Roanoke, IN while we waited for the train, and we listened to the 765’s whistle blow at each road crossing for a full 15 minutes prior to the train arriving at our location. That was an experience we both shared, never to be forgotten. Jim is one of those great individuals GOD brings into your life whom you will never forget. RIP Jim.
In the early 1980’s we used to hang around together on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Gastonia Amtrak station to see the northbound Crescent make it’s 12:25 AM stop. Good times. I can still hear it, ” Conductor to Engineer Amtrak 820, let’s blow and go”. Taking Him home tonight I’m sure.
His passion for the iron horse was always apparent. Whenever he spoke about trains you could tell he just loved it. Although I never met him, I admired his grace and good humor. God speed Mr. Wrinn.
Very sad news to hear. I remember giving him a wave in Roanoke when 611 came back from her 2015 restoration while waiting for my father to pick me up for our hotel. He will be missed by many.
I’m at a loss for words and really sorry to hear about Jim’s passing. I’ve had the great honor to shake hands with 2 of Trains editors, DPM and Jim’s. As a 20-year-old, I almost fainted at the NRHS Albany convention in 1968, I think, when I was introduced to DPM and got to shake his hand. I ran in to Jim when he was visiting the NC Railroad Museum one time and I happened to be there for a quick visit. I’m a lot older now and not really into a lot of changes in life but after looking at Trains starting at age 4 and reading the articles after I learned to read, I’ve loved the changes that have been made to the magazine. Every editor has made their mark on it but Jim brought it to the excellent publication that it is today. If trains run in heaven, I’m sure that Jim and Dave will be watching them go by.
Simply one of the greats.
The light of your passion made my life brighter!
Railroading is a business. Railroading is also a hobby. It is a very special soul that is fluent in both. All the more so is the ability to elucidate these words so as to be relevant to both. Jim was such a person and the reason Trains Magazine can be found on the rack of the local hobby shop and the waiting room of nearly every executive office I found myself cooling my heals. Morgan was a hard act to follow. Wrinn will be next to impossible. But for now let us remember a lover railroads, a lover of steam and tireless documentarian of the trade for which we are all better off.
Rest in Peace Jim. Thoughts and prayers to Cate, the rest of his family and all at Trains magazine. I also hope to meet you and all the deceased Trains editors and photographers on the trains in heaven. Until enjoy riding the trains with them
RIP Jim. Tell DPM we all said hi. Hope to meet you two on whatever trains I ride up in heaven.
I am sorry to hear the sad news! R.i.p Jim wrinn, you will be sadly missed!
Ride on, Jim Wrinn, ride on.
Rest in piece Jim.
An irreplaceable loss, in every sense of the word, to the world of railroading.
Even though I’ve never met him personally, I feel a loss and sadness with his passing. His passion for trains was undeniable. Hopefully he was mentoring a replacement to keep Trains Magazine chugging along. Godspeed Jim and prayers to the Family
We have truly lost a great historian and lover of trains, regardless if they are steam, diesel, or electric powered. As you continue your journey may all your block signals be green. We will see you soon. Rest in peace Jim Wrinn.
I met Jim when I was General Manger during the attempted 1981-1983 revival of the Graham County Railroad, and we have been friends ever since. I’m gonna miss him badly, as he inspired me to write for Trains, and I’ve been privileged to be published there. But more than that, Jim was a wonderful person to be around. He visited with us in Lancaster, PA a few years ago, and it was wonderful to just sit and chat about all kinds of things. We were both looking forward to meeting again later this year. My thoughts are with Cate and his staff at Kalmbach, as well as his legions of friends far and near.
Thoughts and prayers are with the family and all at Trains magazine.
I’m so sorry to hear that, my condolences to everyone there
My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the staff at Trains Magazine.
It is a loss for all those that enjoy Trains and railroading in general. I only met Jim a couple times, but he was always a true gentlemen, always friendly and willing share stories.
jim was such a joy to talk to . i had great pleasure meeting him on several occasians
oh dear i’m sorry to hear that 🙁 i’m sure jim wrinn will always forever be remembered and will never be forgotten he’ll be known as a proud editor of trains magazine and the pictures and videos of trains he took lives on 🙂
WHAT a SHOCK! It is impossible to state how staggering the loss of Jim Wrinn is to the world of railroading, and his indefatigable public relations efforts in getting many a steam locomotive restored and back into operation. It will be extremely difficult to find someone like him to replace him!
RIP. May he have sunny skies, clear signals, and washed locomotives, and one heck of a slideshow with all the other railfan greats that preceded him.
One of the finest individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. A truly nice man who has earned his place in Heaven. God be with you Jim.