Anyone who has hopped aboard the city’s beloved 2141 steam engine in recent years can thank Bill Abley.
The retired principal, longtime Kamloops resident and family man died at age 72 on Dec. 19 and will be remembered for his part in getting the old train back on the tracks, as well as his love for children.
“He leaves a big hole,” son Andrew Abley told KTW.
Mark McVittie met Abley in the 1990s through the 2141 Steam Locomotive Restoration Society.
The group formed as a result of a private pitch to restore and operate the steam locomotive as a tourist train in Alberta.
The old train had sat for more than 30 years on display in Riverside Park and community members stepped up and fought to keep the engine in Kamloops.
“Bill and a couple of us were instrumental in really building the business plan and doing the fundraising and going out and getting the money that was required,” McVittie told KTW.
“We talked to the city, we got a big grant from the federal government. Bill was instrumental in all of the behind-the-scenes paperwork. A lot of the, frankly, thankless work. But without the money, the locomotive doesn’t get done. There’s thousands and thousands and thousands of hours here.”
Former reporter and current Kamloops Coun. Dale Bass covered the restoration efforts.
She called Abley a “longtime volunteer” who worked tirelessly when it would have been easy to walk away.
“He didn’t,” Bass said. “And a bunch of others didn’t. They stuck to it and they fought through their challenges and they rebuilt the engine. It’s like the quintessential Kamloops volunteer.”
Today, the train adds historical charm downtown. It hosts events and weddings, provides families holiday-themed voyages, such as the Spirit of Christmas, and teaches residents and tourists area history.
Even after the train was restored, Abley played an active role with the society, a founding member of the Kamloops Heritage Railway who served as president and dressed up as Santa Claus.
Daughter Jayne Latta recalled how her father grew facial hair every winter, to the frustration of her mother, Gwen, who hated how big and bushy his beard would get.
Their mother died two years ago.
“We see it as him having Christmas with his wife this year,” Andrew said.
Abley will also be remembered as a former School District 73 teacher and principal.
He worked for 37 years in the district before retiring in 2014 and becoming a marriage commissioner.
When he retired, Abley was made an honorary member of the Kamloops-Thompson Principals and Vice-Principals Association for tenure and involvement.
Association president Jake Schmidt said Abley served three years as president and called him a “strong people person,” who liked to have a good laugh and set an example for younger principals.
“It’s helping younger principals, it’s being a voice when people have a concern. It’s being there for people if they’re having a tough time,” Schmidt said.
“I think Bill embodied all of those. … I think I’m a big part of the association because of what Bill did.”
Abley’s career also inspired daughter Jayne, who became a principal in the district, just like her father.
The kids both referred to him as a “mentor.” Their older brother, Bill, was named after their dad.
“He loved children,” Jayne said through tears. “He loved helping kids. He was an advocate for his students. He loved his grandchildren. His family was everything to him.”
Abley was also heavily involved in Kamloops Alliance Church, at the north end of Overlanders Bridge, at 200 Leigh Rd. Family, friends and colleagues will pay tribute to his life there at his service on Friday, Jan. 3. It starts at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Abley’s memory to the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Terry Fox Foundation.