Tulsa Zoo train enthusiast Jim Sinclair crossed miles of rough tracks
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2012
11/30/12 at 5:05 AM
Old No. 46 still had plenty of life left in her. Jim Sinclair, who knew a thing or two about persevering, was sure of that.
Setting out to prove it, the recent retiree and heart-disease survivor who volunteered with the Tulsa Zoo's miniature passenger train, spearheaded a complete overhaul of the attraction and its facilities.
To honor his successful effort in 1992, when it was reintroduced to the community, Old No. 46, one of the train's engines, was given a new name.
"The Sinclair," as it was to be known, continued for several years to carry passengers around the zoo grounds until, with rising popularity, a bigger one replaced it.
James Edmond "Jim" Sinclair, a Haskell native and longtime Southwestern Bell employee, died Nov. 14. He was 87.
A private service was held under the direction of Stanleys Funeral Service.
When it came to durability, Old No. 46 didn't have anything on Sinclair.
Suffering from a series of serious health problems over the years, he had undergone the equivalent of a few overhauls himself.
Sinclair, whose father had died of a heart attack, had two open-heart surgeries, three stent implants and arterial implants in both legs. He also survived three bouts with cancer.
"He was considered almost a medical miracle," said his wife, Jean Sinclair, adding that he had 27 major operations in all.
The Tulsa Zoo train did not need quite the same level of miraculous intervention. But it did need some serious help.
Run for years by a private contractor, when it eventually was taken over by Tulsa Zoo Friends, "the trains and tracks were in very bad shape. They talked about even discarding the whole thing," Jean Sinclair said.
That possibility didn't sit well with her husband.
The zoo and its miniature train had been Sinclair family favorites for a long time.
The couple, who started as friends at Cleveland Junior High School before later becoming sweethearts, used to ride their bikes to the zoo, in Mohawk Park, and they had good memories of the train.
Later, as a married couple raising five children, they volunteered at the zoo and maintained close ties to it.
So with all that history, Sinclair, who "always liked to fiddle with cars and engines," decided to try to keep the train running, his wife said.
Overseeing the renovation of the engines, he also supervised the relocation and lengthening of the track.
He rebuilt the train barn.
And he personally bought two more passenger cars.
Finally, he also recruited new engineers, teaching them to drive and maintain the upgraded train.
Altogether, Sinclair worked for 72 weeks straight improving the system, rarely taking a day off, his wife said.
While his health allowed, he continued as an engineer himself. The passengers' expressions were worth the effort.
"That's the most fun - seeing the light in these kids' eyes," Sinclair told the Tulsa World in 1992 about the train's significance to him.
"You get a real lift out of it. Boy, they're all impressed. It's really an experience for them."
The Sinclairs even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the zoo.
As part of the festivities, the couple took "The Sinclair" for a ride, with their children and grandchildren joining them.
It was a real treat for the young ones, Jean Sinclair said.
"And for the grown-ups, too," she added, laughing. "Let's not forget the grown-ups."
Sinclair's survivors include his wife of 69 years, Jean Sinclair; five children, James Sinclair, Walt Sinclair, Ray Sinclair, Susan Potter and Gail Pidilla; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Train enthusiast crossed miles of rough tracks
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Jim Sinclair (left) prepares to take a spin on the Tulsa Zoo's miniature railway after one of its engines was renamed in his honor. Sinclair, 87, a longtime zoo volunteer who restored the train and its facilities, died Nov. 14. Tulsa World file