John “Tanky” Bell, Jr., L.I.R.R. Engineer 
Anecdote by Tom Collins

Tanky Bell was a friend of the family, and I got my "first" cab ride with him in a C-Liner, going from Speonk to Montauk. Sorry, no pictures ever taken! I remember he had a fireman, and we had a meet at Westhampton, and the crew on the train in the clear passed us some bunches of grapes.

Tanky lived actually in Springs, north of East Hampton , on a new street off of, I believe, Springs Fireplace Road. I think his was the only house on that street, and the name of the street was BELL Road .

I don't know when they changed work rules, but at the time the crew worked 10 days on, and 5 days off. I had it marked on the calendar when he was working. I would go out to the tracks every night on the Eastbound, and give him a "High Ball", when he came around the curve at PT.

I used a lantern he had given me. If school was not in session, I would usually meet him on the Westbound trip as he went by Eastport. All my friends thought I was crazy!!!! Rain or shine, I met him every night he worked.

After he retired, and his wife passed away, he moved into a senior housing complex in Commack . Chris Soundy and I stopped and saw him, and I had painted a HO scale GP38, #268, and gave it to him.

At his funeral, the train stopping at East Hampton , gave him a whistle send off. I have one of the signs from his locomotive #268, “John (Tanky) Bell , Jr.” I also have an ETT that Tanky gave me, actually tossed it out the window going East, wrapped up in some rags.

I tried to get a reprint from Newsday on the article about him, but was unsuccessful. I also can't remember the name of his fireman on my cab ride, but he went on to become an engineer.

Tom Collins


(Per official “ Long Island Rail Road Seniority Roster of Enginemen and Fireman” effective, 4/1/1949, John Bell hired on as Fireman on 11/22/1922 and was promoted to engineer on 5/17/29.  Dave Keller)