Despite the damp, cool spring weather, over the past couple of weeks I’ve finally been able to roll up a few miles on my bicycle.  One of the many interesting Detroit neighborhoods I ride through and explore on a regular basis is the Historic Milwaukee Junction. It’s a section of Detroit just northeast of the city’s bustling mid-town area. It is an old industrial area full of vintage buildings that are showing signs of life, with many of the old brick structures being converted to residential lofts and art galleries.

One of the most historic buildings in that neighborhood is the abandoned six-story Albert Kahn designed Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant. That old industrial building stretches almost a city block along Piquette Street.

The historic Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant

The historic Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant

Interestingly, I was riding past the old plant a few days ago and discovered the steel rails being used in the construction of the M1 light rail project going in along Woodward Avenue. They were stacked on Piquette in front of the former plant in rows 4 or 5 high and 25 or so wide.  What was remarkable about them was their length. Ninety percent of the rails appear to be seamless and at least 110 feet long, if not longer. They virtually ran the length of the building.

The one piece M1 rails stretch a city block

The one piece M1 rails stretch a city block

Rails stacked along Piquette Street in front of the plant

Rails stacked along Piquette Street in front of the plant

I recognize that technology is in place allowing continuous lengths of rail or steel of all sizes. But the bigger mystery to me is, how did they get there? The narrow streets don’t seem wide enough for semi-trucks to be able to haul the long rails through there, let alone make the necessary tight corners found in that section of the city. The corners just don’t appear to be wide enough.

I understand portable type wheels can be placed along the length of the rails for hauling. However, it’s a nagging question to me as to how they made it to Piquette street to be stacked in front of the old plant, especially with the tight street corners found in that old industrial neighborhood.

Looking at them and their 110’ length that seems to go on forever, I wondered how they will be moved from their current location along Piquette Street west to Woodward for placement along the M-1 light rail system that is being built. It’s a straight shot along Piquette to Woodward, but they still have to be swung around to a north/south direction once there.

Manufacturer's numbers on the rails

Manufacturer’s numbers on the rails

I’ll be keeping my eye on these; hopefully I’ll be in that neighborhood when they are being moved to Woodward Avenue for placement.

As I’ve pointed out in past blog entries, Detroit is an interesting place full of interesting signs. Many are clean, simple hand painted versions with colorful messages and images found nailed to a utility pole or an abandoned building. Others are crudely hand-made types constructed from cast-off scrap wood, Plexiglas and other found materials.  Most of the eye-catching ones I see at the grass-root level feature a simple message or a rough rendering of a particular product being promoted. It isn’t unusual for some to have misspelled words or painted, dippy letters that make them almost impossible to read. The quirky signs can be found throughout this large city in just about any neighborhood or along major commercial roads that spread across the city.

Below are a few more of the amusing signs of Detroit that I’ve spotted on my bicycle rides in the city.


They do it all

They do it all

That's one large computer

That’s one large computer

Looks to made from discarded doors

Looks to be made from discarded doors

Hand painted campaign sign

Hand painted campaign sign

Like the added words good and cheap

Like the added words good and cheap on the main sign

Plenty of interesting spellings on this tree mounted menu

Plenty of interesting spellings on this tree mounted menu

Below are links to previous blog entries on the Amusing Signs of Detroit.

Amusing Signs of Detroit

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 2

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 3

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 4

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 5

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 6

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 7

Remember, you can click on any image to view it larger.


Happy Holidays

Christmas in Detroit!

Whitney _8645

Enjoy the Season!



Graffiti Trains

Detroit has plenty of rail lines that reach from one end of the city to the other. The trains that ride upon the rails crisscross vast areas of the city. They haul new cars fresh from assembly lines; various parts to manufacturing plants; and raw materials, liquids, and plenty of other goods. One thing about the trains that is always an eye catcher is the graffiti written on the sides of the cars.

Multi Names Train Graff_0199

Clev Train Graff_0599

Just about every freight hauling car I see while riding my bicycle has some type of graffiti written on it. Some are simple black and white tags, and others are small, interesting images much like a cartoon character. Many I’ve seen on the side of passing railroad cars are intricate, multi-colored pieces of art that flow naturally to the contour of the cars. Other pieces spread along the flat, lower sections of the car. Some trains have well over one hundred cars, and I have spotted some type of graffiti or message sprayed on every one of them as they rolled by.

Skeleton Head and Monster Train Graff_9467

Jasf Train Graff_5731

On rare occasions I do see cars that are completely covered from top to bottom with a single piece of art or huge letters. Those particular painted cars must be difficult to do because of the sheer size of the rail cars. The enormous images I’ve seen created on them appear to be at least 20 feet tall. Reaching the top of the train car with paint must require a ladder, which could be a dangerous proposition for the street artist, considering that the cars could be pulled away at any time. I seldom see a fully painted car on my travels. When I do, I’m always amazed that the artist responsible for the piece was able to get it done.

Alamo Train full Graff_6192Sleepy Train full Graff_6526
 CDC Train full Graff_9729
 Awal Train fullGraff_0230

Recently I took a dark, early morning bicycle ride throughout downtown Detroit and along the Detroit River. It was a calm ride with little traffic, a couple of busses, and few people out walking. Near the downtown hotels, shift workers were arriving and leaving their jobs. There were a couple of folks sitting alone at tables or along the counter at some of the 24-hour Coney Island Restaurants. They looked somewhat lonely or in deep thought. Eyeing them as I rode by, I was reminded of the famous painting by Edward Hopper titled, “Nighthawks.”


Detroit is a magical city in the early morning just before sunup. The tall office buildings are mostly dark, but a few of them had an occasional lighted office suite that was glowing in the darkness. The glowing suites were generally located well above the street. The office lights cast subtle shadows and highlights that seemed to enhance the design of the building. The indirect lighting cast from the upper floors also created low, ambient light on the streets below.

A view of Detroit office buildings from Hart Plaza

A view of Detroit office buildings from Hart Plaza

Looking south across the Detroit River to Canada, the bright neon lighting of a casino lit the sky, much like a beacon or a mythological siren luring customers through their doors. The bright neon lights were also reflecting on the calm, non-rippling water of the river that was gently sliding south. As I rode out to Belle Isle that morning, the sun slowly rose to the east. When it broke over the horizon, the city’s skyline took on a golden hue, as if to welcome a bright, new morning to Detroit.

Detroit River at the break of dawn

Detroit River at the break of dawn

Golden Detroit skyline at sun rise

The Detroit skyline took on a golden hue at sun rise


There is an old, historic industrial neighborhood on the city’s northeast side called Milwaukee Junction. It was established in the late 1890s as a manufacturing hub. It’s a place where a series of railroad junctions all came together in support of the expanding automobile manufacturing industry. In that area is an old four-story, unassuming, brick factory that has recently gone through a huge change.

The modest, vintage building is now home to some of the city’s best outdoor wall art. One side features an engaging, colorful, collaborative mural by street artists RSK, The YOK, Sheryo, PHYBR, and others. Another wall is home to a work by Malt. It is one of many in his Acid Forest series. One other piece, the largest on the building, was recently completed by one of Australia’s most progressive street artist, David “MEGGS” Hooke. That expansive mural is entitled “Rise Up”

Collaborative mural on an adjoining wall

Collaborative mural on one of the walls

Some of the detail within the piece

Some of the detail within the piece

Malt's Acid Forest

Malt’s Acid Forest

Rise Up is the largest piece of wall art MEGGS he has ever taken on, and it’s probably the largest in the City of Detroit. The amazing, colorful, highly detailed mural covers over 6,000 square feet of wall space. It spreads across four stories of the old factory wall. A major focus point of the artwork is a huge head of a tiger. The head is two stories tall, which equals at least 30’ in height.


Finished piece by MEGGS

The tiger head is at least 30' tall

The tiger head is at least 30′ tall

I was fortunate to discover this piece on Russell Street at Trombly while MEGGS was working on it in its early stages. At that time the content was being sketched out on the brick wall. Watching the progress, I was amazed at the speed in which this giant piece of art was created. He managed to sketch it out and complete it in about 10 days. I caught the early stages of the mural around October 17th and was blown away when I saw the final, completed piece on October 27th.

Early stages

Early stages

Close to the finish. Note the hydraulic lift

Close to the finish. Note the hydraulic lift

Another view of the finished mural

Another view of the finished mural

Considering the size of the project and the limited reach offered from a mobile lift MEGGS was working from; the scale, proportion, and use of color are incredible. I don’t understand how the street artists can create something of this magnitude with a few rollers and paint from spray cans, but it is impressive.

I also like the pieces along the base of the wall, just below Rise Up. They are the work of Detroit graffiti artists Tead, Elmer and RAWR.

In a recent social media posting MEGGS describes the Rise Up piece as “an iconic symbol of the city and past glory for over a century, it is now a symbol of future hope; to rise up against great odds”.  Beautiful!

I see plenty of wall art on my bicycle rides. Some of the many pieces found on the walls of Detroit are colorful, abstract in design, and the execution can be flawless. Others incorporate monsters, birds and historical figures. I’ve also seen lively cartoon characters that cover the sides of walls.

Recently I revisited a site to show a friend a specific piece of wall art on an adjoining building. While poking around that area I spotted a set of painted dancers that I had completely forgotten about. They were painted about a year ago on a couple of interior cement block walls of a roofless building that is in major disrepair. On those walls are five well done paintings of ballet dancers.

Looking at them I was reminded of how captivating they are. They feature well-proportioned flowing lines of the bodies, which seems to create motion and movement. Their legs are well-toned, elegant, and positioned much like a dancer you’d see on stage. The wall paintings also feature long, thin flowing arms that create the look of a graceful maneuver found in a sophisticated dance routine or ballet pose. One of the wall pieces is a side view portrait of a dancer’s head that is simple in design, yet realistic in appearance.

Portrait of Dancer_1819

One of the things I really like about these wall paintings is the emotion and lifelike movements the pieces seem to deliver. I also like that they are all two-color paintings. Looking at them, it is easy to imagine the hard work, training, concentration, and effort real dancers must go through on a daily basis during their careers. Everything about them expresses movement, excitement, and elegance.

B:W Dancer on white background_1817

Blk:Blue Dancer_1816

Blk:Purple Dancer_1814

B:W Dancer on Red Background_1818

Kudos goes out to the talented artist that created these engaging dancers on a wall in Detroit.


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