News & Reviews News Wire Kalmbach rail magazines, sold to Firecrown Media

Kalmbach rail magazines, sold to Firecrown Media

By Trains Staff | May 1, 2024

Kalmbach Books, FineScale Modeler, Astronomy, online stores also included

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Exterior of office building
Kalmbach Media headquarters in Waukesha, Wis. David Lassen

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Trains Magazine, the company’s other rail magazines, and are among assets that have been sold by Kalmbach Media to Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Firecrown Media, the two companies have announced today (May 1).

Logo of Kalmbach MediaOther Kalmbach titles involved in the transaction are Classic Trains, Model Railroader, Classic Toy Trains, FineScale Modeler, and Astronomy, as well as Kalmbach’s online stores.

The publications involved will continue to be based in Wisconsin.

Firecrown Media owns a wide range of transportation brands including Flying, Plane & Pilot, Boating, Yachting, and the supply chain site FreightWaves.

Kalmbach employees were informed of the sale this morning and told that most employees working on the brands will be offered positions with Firecrown after screening. Kalmbach CEO Dan Hickey called it “a difficult day in our storied history” in an email announcing the sale.

Firecrown CEO Craig Fuller said in a press release that “The rail titles fit perfectly into the Firecrown portfolio and the breadth of experience of our staff … Kalmbach has deep ties in the railroad community, having published magazines and books about railroads and model trains for over 90 years. There isn’t a deeper connection in the rail enthusiast community than the one that Kalmbach built. The Firecrown staff will work diligently to continue and build on that connection moving forward.

“Additionally, the rail and aviation communities have a great deal in common. Besides the obvious — both being transportation modes and having similarities in business models — the enthusiast audience is vast in both categories. We believe that ‘railfans’ and ‘avgeeks’ are kindred spirits.

“With the acquisition, Firecrown plans to invest significantly in Trains’ business editorial coverage, increasing the cadence and depth of coverage of the rail industry. FreightWaves, one of Firecrown’s brands, provides a playbook to help achieve this.”

Fuller and other members of the Firecrown staff met with staff members who will be making the transition to the new ownership this afternoon. A 60-day transition period is planned for the magazines and other properties. More information on Firecrown’s plans and what they mean for employees and readers will be forthcoming.

— Updated at 6:30 p.m. CT.

53 thoughts on “Kalmbach rail magazines, sold to Firecrown Media

  1. Only learning about Kalmbach selling its railroading titles. First, as a 52-year reader of Trains and longtime Classic Trains subscriber, I want to say thanks for the excellent journalism those titles have consistently delivered. It’s impressive that a small publishing company like Kalmbach could attract first-rate editors for those publications such as David Morgan, Rosemary Entringer, Dave Ingles, Kevin Keefe, Robert McConigal, and Jim Wrinn, and terrific reporters/writers such as Walley Abbey, Fred Frailey, Steve Glischinski, Bob Johnston, and so many more. Not to mention the dozens of superb contributors over the years.

    It’s hard to believe that Al Kalmbach’s enterprise will leave us after 90 years. My one comment to the new owners is that customer service still matters in today’s world.

  2. Private equity would have been worse. At least it is sold to a company that does produce something and will have a clear focus to grow revenues and not just cut costs in order to flip it a few years later. I hope.

  3. Wow. The sad news we knew would happen one day, given what’s been happening to print journalism. We’ve been lucky to still have Kalmbach’s magazines and books coming out every year for so long. MR (and their videos) taught me practically everything I know about model railroading and has inspired me since I was a kid in the 1980’s. I hope the new owners treat it well and keep it going for a long time. I’m glad (“most”?) Kalmbach employees are being offered jobs at Firecrown and I hope there won’t be cuts to their pay/benefits. I wonder what’s going to happen to the MR&T. It’d have to be cut into some pretty small chunks to fit in the elevator. I’ve wanted to tour it some day, but I’m thinking it’s probably too late for that now.

  4. Interesting that there has been no further comment on the acquisition by either Kalmbach or Firecrown. Have expected at least Firecrown to outline their ideas on planned changes, updates, editorial thoughts on expanded focus, goals, etc. Or will we need to wait until the actual purchase has been completed?

  5. I was a long time subscriber to Flying. Almost as lone as to Trains and MR. I was not impressed with what happened to Flying and allowed that subscription to lapse. Hopefully, things will be better for the railroad magazines.

  6. The cold hard publishing reality is an entity like Trains will have to operate on two planes: 1) a digital and events offering built around industry news-of-the-day, suppliers/manufacturers, and thought leaders; and 2) premium in-print offerings drawing on nostalgia and extensive archives. You’ve already seen Kalmbach doing this through its pubs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trains and Classic Trains morph into this in print form and forego news.

    MR is a different beast given its advertiser base. But the hobby is aging all the more.

  7. Hmmm, an interesting turn…

    I let my me membership with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) lapse when Mr. Fuller was at the reins – I felt that the primary foci of aviation safety and government advocacy was diminished, but hey, he did create the AOPA Wine Club…

    Likewise, when he acquired Flying magazine from Bonnier, it quickly turned into a publication that had a following of its numerous regular contributors into a rah rah piece with a flyin community which he has a substantial interest in…

    Thus, I hope for the best – but will wait with bated breath.

  8. A lot of firms (Lately Google) are outsourcing their work to foreign companies, hope this does not happen here!

  9. The Kalmbach readership is much more loyal and nostalgic than the new buyers can appreciate. I was loyal 50 years because I met the principals who produced Trains and MR personally. And to see in the flesh what I read in print made me a loyal subscriber. The same thing has happened to my LHS (franchise). Gone is the hobby focus and enter the finished toy products. In the last 6 months, I sensed things were changing in ways not in keeping with past performances at Kalmbach. I would hope the commitment to readers and to the industry will not change. I feel sorry for the staff. Thanks to all them. Most of all thanks to Mr. Kalmbach, DPM, and Jim Wrinn.

    1. How (cruel) the irony, that an orginally railroad based media is sold to a “trucking company.” Oh the humanity!

  10. This paragraph here: “Kalmbach employees were informed of the sale this morning and told that most employees working on the brands will be offered positions with Firecrown after screening. Kalmbach CEO Dan Hickey called it “a difficult day in our storied history” in an email announcing the sale.” is the one I find most troubling. There should be no reason to rescreen employees at an existing company bought by another one, you want continuity and expertise so you SHOULD keep the existing employees on their assigned jobs. The only positions you might consolidate are in clerical i.e.: HR, accounting, and the like. It’s the failure of every merger in history, get rid of the experience and knowledge in the interest of “savings”.

    1. And such is the concern in the entire history of mergers and acquisitions. There are always job losses. Will the acquiring company keep the best people? Or will it fire the good ones, just to show who’s boss now.

    2. The company I worked at for 35 years did over 130 acquisitions during my tenure. Every one required a review of the personnel at the acquired company, some also included reviewing our people in the process. The objective was to make sure the best people were retained and all were in the right positions.

      A big factor in deciding who is out and who is in the combined organization is the direction they wish to move in. That is unknown to us, but I agree with another comment that I haven’t been happy with some of the recent changes here.

      I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see, and hope for the best.


    I think if you read this history on Firecrown, it sounds very positive for the Kalmbach pubs. Plus they want to get into the rail business publications biz, which they have a large presence in the aviation business market.

    I for one, would love to read more articles on the business side. One I suggested lately was how derail events impact the shipping insurance markets.

    1. It doesn’t…not with railroads being self-insured…unless you mean for the shippers themselves, in which case maybe they should start insuring their freight(not something commonly done).

  12. Thanks to Kalmbach for its decades of superb journalism, photography and for making rail history fun! I am hopeful that the new ownership knows what a treasure it has acquired and keeps us “all aboard”. If Trains and Classic Trains were silenced it would truly be a real loss.

    But for now I reserve judgement on the new ownership and hope to still enjoy the spot on reporting of Bob Johnston, the immensely rewarding history pieces, and the continued positive voice for balanced transportation. And I repeat, thanks Kalmbach, for giving me (and so many friends) so many decades of great reading!

  13. White River has done a magnificent job with Railpace, Model Railroad News, Craftsman and the Train Collector magazines. May Firecrown do the same with the Kalmbach Media group of mags. And a rebuilt website into a well planned, well designed and easy-to-use system is more than welcome.

  14. It looks like, as far as Firecrown goes, no promises made, no promises given.. We will all have to wait and see and hope for the best…

  15. For those who track these things, Trains Magazine had a circulation in 2013 of 91,739. By 2018 it was down to 80,001. And probably 20-30% of their paid circulation are local libraries. Not advertiser friendly.

    Yes, for reasons unknown, Trains readers are sensitive to changes, probably due to its demographic. I remember when the fontface of the Trains logo changed and the uproar it caused. Then double the uproar 3 or 4 years later when it was changed again.

    As for the USPS and the magazine postal rate, it clearly is not enough, because the next issue always shows up in the book store magazine shelf 2-3 weeks before it shows up in my mailbox.

    And speaking of bookstores, Having Trains next to Flying Magazine in the retail magazine rack will not be a big change because most of the hobby publications are together and I always see Trains next to Flying.

    Any one who doesn’t subscribe (or don’t want too) you can get really good discounts at certain bookstores when you join their discount club, You have to pay sales tax, but in many cases the discount will get you close to the subscription pricing. I can get some magazines from the UK cheaper off the rack discounted, than subbing it internationally.

  16. I hope that this transaction positions the Kalmbach brands and website to modernized and refresh.

    I like the unlimited deal, I do it over print. However the entire experience on the website is an early 00s website with modern content.

    A more engaging web experience. More video content. There is a ton of quality content on DVD that people are trying to sell one at a time at shows. should be licensing and get my money to watch it digitally.

  17. Well, we all know what Al Kalmbach and David P. Morgan are doing – spinning in their proverbial graves! Will Trains and its related publications become another “fallen flag?’

    1. Amen to that. Add Jim Wrinn to those turning/squirming in their graves….

    2. I doubt it. This publisher looks like it is into rejuvenating hobbyist/professional topicals. I am sure Al Kambach would appreciate the new attention the magazine will be getting.

    1. I think a writer earlier got Fred and Jim Winn confused. Jim died but I beleve Fred is just enjoying retired like.

  18. There goes my scripts to Trains, Classic Trains, and Model Railroader. Most of the time they are damaged when I get them anyway. I got that special Photo’s of the 1960’s book, and it was damaged also. I got tired of calling and getting replacement issues.

  19. Another big problem with print magazines is the Post Office. My Conrail Historical Society magazine came out over 3 weeks ago. As of the mail delivery today, still no magazine. I have already read the entire magazine on line. I like the printed edition, but the service the Post Office offers is terrible.

    1. You can thank Louis DeJoy for that — as well as the clown that put that useless sack into a position he was spectacularly unsuited for.

    2. @Jay Burns: I respectfully disagree. Speaking as a retired Rural Letter Carrier with 23 years of service, I can tell you that the Postal Service’s delivery problems started a long time ago when the USPS equivalent of PSR was implemented. Called Delivery Point Sequencing, the idea was to take as many human hands out of the sorting process as possible, mainly clerks and mail handlers, and introduce new, expensive, and breakdown-prone machines that would make Rube Goldberg blush. The idea, which sounds wonderful on paper, was to automate the sorting of almost all letter and flat mail into delivery sequence for each of the tens of thousands of mail routes. The machines were prone to jams, shredding flat mail, and other problems. The majority of mail sorting was taken out of our hands (carriers in my office sorted on average about 1,000 – 5,000 pieces each day) and we were forced to load the trays directly into our delivery vehicles without going through to check for the numerous errors that occurred. We were told to just bring back the mis-sorts and hand-sort them the next day. I can say with confidence that I can hand-sort better than any machine, and although it took me longer in the office, it saved me a lot of time on the street. I am a stickler for accuracy, and I was able to provide good service to my customers. A number of them wrote letters (unprompted by me) to my bosses commending me for my dedication and caring service.
      Letter mail was the first to switch to DPS in the late 1990s, and flats followed around 2010 or so. Plants were closed in major cities with their work consolidated at other facilities. It wasn’t unusual to wait for several hours for the mail to arrive from the plant; so start times were pushed back from 7 AM to 9 AM. Additionally, we regularly saw bulk rate flat mail such as retail catalogs and other sale promotion items showing up after the sale date was over. We also started seeing political mailers arriving after an election was held. The remaining plants were poorly managed and couldn’t handle the influx of mail that had been sorted elsewhere; in my case, the Norfolk VA plant was closed and the work shifted to Richmond.

      So the problems actually started about 25 years ago and have only gotten worse. New employee retention is poor and offices regularly do not have enough carriers available to cover each route on any given day. It’s Amtrak on steroids. Mr. DeJoy is only the latest in a LONG line of schlubs (remember “Carvin’ Marvin” Runyon [1992-1998]?) to occupy the big chair. Most are political hacks and cronies of influential DC types who have no conception of how to run any large business, much less the huge bureaucratic nightmare that is the USPS.

  20. o great here comes another increase in subscription price…..things have really changed since Frailey passed away. Its too bad May not renew next time I ll see

  21. Another sign of the diminishing interests of the Millennials & those younger in anything but their phone. Railfanning will join the other disappearing past times like golf, bowling, hunting, fishing anything that requires your active participation & a little bit of effort.

    1. Doubt railfanning is going anywhere. Have you seen Youtube lately? Filled with ever growing channels with professional content produced by people less than 25 years old.

  22. I’m not surprised; printed media has been slowly dying for several decades. I expect that eventually we’ll be forced to go to a strictly digital format. I use my desktop to read Kalmbach publications including the Archive sets (nice to have every issue of Trains at my fingertips), although navigating the format is a little more difficult because of scrolling and magnification issues. It’s certainly going to alter my reading habits in the Executive Reading Room at home!

  23. Kalmbach is more than magazines and as they have a bunch of books that they print for the various magazines and they sell videos as well.

  24. The pop-up ads are SUPER irritating, and I’m not interested in an “unlimited” subscription on a per/month basis. The digital forms simply decrease the print content and raise the price for the “full” information. But, we’ll see what happens.

    1. Steve, the seven bucks a month is alone worth it in as much as not having to deal with the sleazy/scary/annoying popup ads. The access to additional content is a bonus too.

    1. Not a lot. I won’t be surprised if they don’t shut the whole thing down, now that they let the Flagship go away…

    2. Maybe just Fine Scale Modelling and the bead/craft material. Perhaps the family, or whoever the owners are, are retiring or otherwise divesting.

  25. Second the amen. When the print mag arrives each month, with its slim advertising, I wonder what is subsidizing it. The subscription base isn’t that big. The “newsstand ” price is ridiculous. I doubt there is much there. The digital platform recycles a lot of archived stuff, which is fine, but again, how relevant is that. Still, some corporate someone is paying good money for something, or assuming debt for a reason. We are not privy to the real situation, so I join the others in a “wait, fingers crossed” attitude.

  26. Maybe this will keep Trains and available longer with out disappearing. I just read last night the Readers Digest is closing down after 86 years in business.
    So hopefully this will be a good thing.

    1. “I just read last night the Readers Digest is closing down after 86 years in business.”

      Per the links listed at , it’s the British edition of RD that’s going under. No mention of plans for the US edition.

      And closer to the topic, I shop for Railpace, the Northeast’s Own Rail Magazine whenever I’m in Strasburg, PA or a Barnes & Noble in the PA/DE/MD region. Railpace imo hasn’t seemed to suffer since White River bought it. We’ll see what Firecrown does with the Trains family. That said, talk about putting out a mayday on May Day…

  27. Best wishes. I’ve been in aviation for 40 years + and more buyouts and mergers than I can remember anymore. Still waiting on one that improved anything, when somebody says “Things are just going to get bigger and better!” start warming up the resume.

  28. Interesting the “rumors” at the trade show this past weekend in NYC have turned out to be spot on, I fear for the quality of the Kalmbach brand having said that in some ways the fact checking and spell checking could use some improvement, bring back someone like Rosey!!!

  29. As I stated a few days ago, I do not like mergers or buyouts. They never live up to their promises and never benefit the employees or customers. We will see what happens here, but I expect to see major changes in the coming year. Stay tuned.

  30. I wonder what Al would say about this move? . It is clear that the market for printed matter is no longer a growth market, and I think the quality of these Kalmbach publications since it began to “diversify” has suffered.

  31. Well, I’m a “railfan”, an “avgeek”, and like Kalmbach Media I live in the Town of Brookfield, Wisconsin.

    Companies taking over other companies start off with the promise of continuity. We’ll see. There almost always are changes after a merger. People who have subscribed to TRAINS for all these decades don’t like change. Let’s wish the staff and the contributors well, hope for the best, and be very very very grateful for what we’ve had.

    1. Amen, Charles.

      In a past life, I was a subscriber to Yachting; loved the magazine. But that was in the ’60s, and lost touch with it in the ’70s, when I found my self in New Mexico (not a whole lot of yachting out there…).

      Will be keeping an eye out for deterioration in Trains mag and With any luck, there won’t be any (or much, anyway).

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