Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




James F Bell, Sr.

Mr. James F. Bell, Sr. was born, July 15, 1918, the second son of William Gilbert Bell, Sr. and Alice Lucille Rawlings Bell of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He passed away on April 25, 2012.  Read the obituary here.

Mr. Bell graduated for James K. Shook School and Grundy County High School in Tracy City. While attending high school, Mr. Bell played football under Coach Anderson.

Mr. Bell’s first job after high school was at the Crane Plant in Chattanooga. He was employed at Crane in 1938 - 1939. (approximately 2 years). His first job at the plant was to load 1,000 lbs of scrap iron by hand onto a four wheel buggy and push it to the cupola for processing. He was a crane operator when he left the company.

Mr. Bell left the Crane Plant after obtaining a job as switchman with the Nashville Chattanooga and St. Louis (NC&StL) Railway at the Cravens Yard in Chattanooga, TN in 1940. In November of the same year he married Charlotte “Lottie” Elizabeth Partin of Tracy City, Tennessee.

James Bell’s father, William, a switchman for the NC&StL Railway in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was knocked from the top of a box car by a wire on 1 March 1923 while walking towards the front end of the moving train. Evidently he did not see the telegraph wires that cross the tracks because of the heavy smoke. He died from his injuries four days later. James was 4 ½ years old at the time.

After his father’s death his mother, Lucille and the children moved to Tracy City, Tennessee and lived with her mother-in-law, Mary Crouch Bell. Lucille was 27 years old at the time and had 3 children - William Jr., James, Margaret, and one on the way; Gene. {William’s father, Mr. Allen Tribble Bell, had died on 24 July 1919. The house where they lived faced the train depot and is located next to what is now the Foster Funeral Home.} Mr. Bell grew up within sight and sound of the local steam locomotives.

During WW II, Mr. Bell was granted a leave of absence from the NC&StL Railway and served his country, 1943-1945, in the Army of the United States, Company C, 718th Railroad Operating Battalion. The 718th was the first railroad battalion into France and Germany. It was standard operating procedure to operate the train at night without lights to reduce the chance of being strafed by enemy aircraft. In support of the counter attack at the Battle of the Bulge, the 718th moved four divisions, including supplies, of the Third Army across the front into the south flank of the Bulge within a forty-eight hour period. They also moved the Seventh Army, which was replacing the Third Army. Mr. Bell’s overseas tour included Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe.

After the war, Mr. Bell returned to his former job with the NC&StL Railway in Chattanooga. He later transferred to the Tracy City Branch on the Extra Board. His wife’s family lived in Tracy City and he considered this a good move for the family. He moved with his wife and two young boys, James Jr. and Lanny, back into the house where he had lived as a boy. After moving to Tracy City he had a daughter Elizabeth Ann Bell. The Tracy City branch line was known as the Mountain Goat Line. At that time the trains were pulled by steam locomotives and primarily transported coal from the local coal mines off the mountain at Sewanee to the main line at Cowan, TN. The locomotives were stationed in Tracy City and the coal cars were weighted in the Tracy City Yard. Often times on the return trip up the mountain with the empty cars the train had to double and sometime triple the mountain. Approximately half or a third of the cars would be brought up the mountain at a time and set on the Sewanee siding near the depot and the locomotive(s) would return to Cowan for the remaining cars. Once all the cars were brought up the mountain, the train was reassembled and preceded on to Tracy City and beyond. Also, it was not uncommon to have double headers and sometimes triple headers of steam locomotives and later diesel locomotives on the line.

Although Mr. Bell primarily worked out of Tracy City he also worked on the Tullahoma, TN; Decherd, TN; Shelbyville, TN; Stevenson, AL; Bridgeport, AL and Huntsville, AL lines. At Huntsville the railroad cars where loaded onto a barge at Hobbs Island for the trip upriver to Guntersville, Al.

He also worked at Partin’s Store in Tracy City; a family owned grocery and general merchandise business.

For years Mr. Bell would toss bubble gum to children who would run out to see the train as it passed.

During this timeframe NC&StL Railway was bought by L&N.

Mr. Bell retired as a conductor in 1979 after 39 years of working on the railroad.

Throughout his railroad career Mr. Bell used the same watch that his father had used when he worked for the NC&StL Railway. See picture below.

He is the only living crew member of the Tracy City Branch Line.

Submitted by James F. Bell, Jr., 2007



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