Railroad graffiti began in earnest during the 1920s and especially during the Depression years of the 1930s as hobos and even some railroad workers made chalk drawings on freight cars to mark their presence. Today some of the graffiti is quite elaborate and covers huge sections of rail cars while other examples are simple illustrations or slogans quickly made with a single color of spray paint.
The larger and more graphic style of graffiti, now known as tagging, originated in east coast cities in the 1960s as part of hip hop culture. New York City subway cars were early targets; the practice soon spread to boxcars and other railroad freight cars. Today’s taggers run the gamut from stereotypical troubled youth to office workers who moonlight with spray cans.
Railroad graffiti became a photography subject almost from its inception. Approached by both railroad enthusiasts and general photographers, it has spawned print publications, exhibitions, websites and extensive online photo-sharing groups. There are even movies about railroad graffiti.
We got particularly interested in some of the graffiti on our own cabooses when we were transforming the former Lovers Caboose into today’s Midnight in Paris. As we removed the old wall paneling underneath were a few colorful tags of note including one from 1985 where Tom and Bill proclaim their love in black marker.
It’s fun to let the imagination run wild and wonder what ever became of Tom and Bill. Are they still together these 31 years later? What if they have been guests here and had no idea what was behind that wall board?
The “Haunted Caboose” out by the pool area still has all its original tagging on it from when it arrived here. There are not only marks from those who sought to have their tags travel the rails of America, but also tags by railroad workers who wrote, "Sold, McClean" indicating that the caboose shouldn't be scrapped as it had been sold to Kelly McClean, the co-creator of this landmark.
Graffiti is a problem for the railroads as it covers the signage on railcars and markings showing when the car was serviced and due for inspection. Graffiti removal is expensive and requires a car be removed from service.
While some graffiti represents the crafty artwork of one individuals mind, there are actually markings used by hobos that are a “secret code” of sorts. Next week, we’ll dig into that and unearth some of the secret markings that hobos used.
Freight Train Graffiti: https://www.graffiti.org/faq/ftg/freighttraingraffiti.html
Trains Magazine: Railroad graffiti: http://trn.trains.com/railroads/2012/01/railroad-graffiti-close-up
Center for Railroad Photography & Art: railphoto-art.org
N/A Railcar Graffiti video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf45BdY3n_w
Style Wars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_Wars
Who is Bozo Texino? http://www.billdaniel.net/who-is-bozo-texino/
Written by Anthony B. Barthel