Submitted by Victoria Bentley,
The Wildlife Express Volunteer Society
Who in Kamloops and through the surrounding area has not had a ride on the “Wildlife Express” miniature train at the Kamloops Wildlife Park? Do you know how long the train has been in service as an attraction to The Kamloops Wildlife Park? Who keeps it running for the enjoyment of park visitors?
In the fall of 1977, Kamloops City Council had the opportunity to purchase a miniature train and rails. Recognizing this train would be a valuable addition to the Kamloops Wildlife Park, the City and parks board agreed to this addition.
One issue was who would run it and look after it? Enter Lois Halsted. She would be the catalyst that got the ball rolling.
Lois contacted Walter Emmington and asked what he thought of this venture. Walter thought his friend Ed Storey may be interested and if he was they would be on board together. They recruited their railroad friends to join them. The train would be operated by retired Railroaders and others with a keen interest in the project.
March 1978 - The Kamloops Senior Citizens Railroad Society was formed. It’s objectives were to build, operate and maintain the train at the Kamloops Wildlife Park.
May 18 1978 - The train was named “Wildlife Express.”
June 13, 1978 - The “First Spike” at 2:30 p.m. was hammered in to start the laying down of the 1,700 foot 16 inch gauge track. By mid June the ticket booth and platform were being built. The train was given a new colour design and they built a temporary storage area to house the 45 foot train. Gerry Cook organized the ticket office while Walter Emmington organized the engine operators schedule. The wives of the railroaders volunteered to sell ride tickets in the new ticket office.
Saturday, July 23, 1978 at 2 p.m., the official opening celebration began. Mayor Mike Latta, in acknowledging the significant amount of work done by the Kamloops Senior Citizen Railroad Society, proclaimed the day as “Kamloops Senior Citizen Railroad Day.”
The crowd looked on as three members of the society drove in the “Last Spike.” Train rides, and entertainment was enjoyed by all who attended. Two hundred “Gold Spikes” were given to children and adults who had a train ride. Within 6 weeks 6,000 tickets were bought for a ride on Kamloops newest attraction.
Without volunteers, donations of supplies, loans of equipment from local businesses and dedication and commitment of The Senior Citizens of Kamloops, the Wildlife Express would only have been a dream. The volunteers who run the train now follow in the footsteps of the first volunteers who started this journey and saw it to fruition back in 1978.
1991 - The volunteers knew they would need a new train soon because of its overwhelming popularity, so the search began for a new and bigger train. The train they chose would have a larger engine and four coaches with canopies and a wheelchair ramp to enable people in wheelchairs to experience a trainride.
In 1998, plans were made to purchase the new train. By late August new rails were being laid. This continued until freezeup. Eighty percent of the track had been done.
1999 was a very busy year. All rails were laid down and some ties were replaced; the original train was sold to the City of Brantford, ON. On May 25, 1999, the City dedicated the new train. A platform and railings were constructed by June of that year; a new workshop with a pit was built to service the new train.
Wildlights started that Christmas so the train was lit up with coloured lights and took passengers around the track to see the new attraction at the Kamloops WildlifePark.
Fast forward to 2018: the train is still run and maintained by dedicated volunteers. The Society has a new name, Wildlife Express Volunteer Society. They still do the same as the first volunteers did—run and maintain the train for the enjoyment of the park’s visitors. The schools now bring classes to the park in May and June and after seeing all the animals they, of course, have a ride on the train. The park hosts birthday parties so a train ride is required to finish off the party.
This July they celebrate 40 years of volunteer service to The Wildlife Express, so are having a party, and your gift to the train will be a ride by donation on July 21-22.
The donations will go towards the train as it will need a new motor in the near future as it will have served the park for 20 years next year and unfortunately such things don’t last forever. Cash only is the way things work at the ticket office.
Hours at the park are March -June school requests weekends only 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m; July -August 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. everyday; September weekends only; Boo at the Zoo and Wildlights at night 5-9 p.m. Stat Holidays 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Rides are (cash) $1.00 each; babies up to 12 months are free.
The Wildpark Museum had a few changes this year, but has some new displays for your viewing pleasure. Its located next to the ticket office. This fall there will be a display of model trains working in the building where the Easter Eggs were displayed at Easter this year.
Please come for a visit and take a ride to help support the Wildlife Express. Pick up one of the leaflets if you’re interested in volunteering with the Wildlife Express Volunteer Society or need more information.