Trains Editor Jim Wrinn Dies at 61

Jim Wrinn presents a program on steam locomotives at the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Akron Railroad Club on April 23, 2011. Richard Jacobs photo

Jim Wrinn, who served as editor of Trains magazine for 17 years, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

Wrinn, a North Carolina native, had battled the cancer for 14 months and chronicled his fight in regular posts on his Facebook page.

He sought to maintain an upbeat but realistic outlook, vowing to beat cancer while acknowledging that many who had fought the disease with him had not survived.

Those posts described the ordeal of chemotherapy sessions – which he likened to taking rat poison – and exhorted his many hundreds of followers to cherish every day while going about the business of daily living.

In terms of longevity, Wrinn was the second longest-serving editor of Trains, eclipsed only by the late David P. Morgan, who helmed the magazine for 33 years and died of cancer at age 62.

Morgan and Wrinn shared a heritage of having grown up in the South and having a passion for steam locomotives.

Wrinn’s first photograph to be published Trains appeared in the October 1982 issue and featured Graham County Railroad Shay No. 1925.

His first bylined story in Trains appeared in the December 1989 issue, a news story about the effects of Hurricane Hugo on Southeastern railroads.

Tributes to Wrinn posted on the websites of Trains and Railfan & Railroad noted that Wrinn came from a railroading family.

His great-grandfather was a laborer on the Southern and an uncle was a Railway Post Office clerk.

Born March 21, 1961, Wrinn grew up in Franklin, North Carolina, and during his childhood would watch Southern Railway trains while visiting his grandparents in Westminister, South Carolina, on the Washington-Atlanta mainline.

“We would visit my grandmother in Westminster on Sundays,” Wrinn told Railfan & Railroad in 1989. “We’d often take the whole family down to the depot. It was kind of a Southern tradition of welcoming the train as it went through.” 

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1983, where he majored in journalism and political science, Wrinn worked as a reporter for newspapers in Gastonia and Fayetteville, North Carolina, before landing a job at the Charlotte Observer.

He left the Observer to become editor-in-chief of Trains on Oct. 27, 2004.

Wrinn was involved in various railroad preservation efforts with the Southern Railway Historical Association, and the North Carolina Transportation Museum. 

He also wrote articles for railfan magazines and published a comprehensive chronicle of the Southern Railway, later Norfolk Southern, steam program.

That book, Steam’s Camelot, was issued by TLC Publishing in 2001. He also was the author or co-author of four other railroad history books.

Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2020, Wrinn continued to oversee Trains and traveled the country to watch and photograph steam locomotives in action.

Railfan and Railroad editor Steve Barry wrote on his magazine’s website after Wrinn’s death that he never considered Wrinn to be a competitor but a friend.

“We go back about 30 years to when he invited me to his beloved Tar Heel State to help with night photo sessions at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer (and to join him in enjoying some fine barbecue and Cheerwine). I’ll miss his dedication to rail preservation and his passion for the hobby and his readers. But most of all, I’ll miss his friendship,” Barry wrote.

In a tribute posted on the Trains website, former Trains editor Kevin P. Keefe said Wrinn aspired during his youth to become editor of Trains, which he began reading at age 6.

Keefe said that during his tenure in the editor’s chair Wrinn sought to serve readers who had like himself grown up reading Trains while also expanding the magazine’s appeal to those more attracted to digital content.

This included the creation of podcasts and videos. Trains’ parent company, Kalmbach Publishing, also began sponsoring railfan-oriented events and publishing special issues devoted to topics of widespread interest.

“Wrinn also showed a flair for the big moment, capitalizing on important news developments and effectively using a variety of media platforms,” Keefe wrote.

Wrinn is survived by his wife, Cate Kratville-Wrinn. Services will be private. Memorial contributions can be made to the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation at P.O. Box 44, Spencer, N.C. 28159, or via the website at www.nctrans.org.

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