Two of the many things I really like to check out while riding my bike in Detroit are trains and graffiti. As I’ve written in the past, trains are powerful, snake-like monsters made of steel that move tons of industrial products, chemicals, automobiles, coal and many other goods across the city and beyond. They continually evolve. Cars are added and removed. Huge, impressive engines are hooked to long lines of rail cars which are needed to pull them to unknown destinations. Depending on the cargo or liquids they are hauling, and where the goods are going, rail lines are switched in an almost archaic, mechanical way, allowing the heavy trains to slowly change direction.
Many, if not most, of the railroad cars I’ve seen while pedaling through Detroit usually have some sort of graffiti painted or sprayed on them in a variety of styles. I’ve seen wacky caricatures painted in bright colors and multi-colored names with three-foot letters, some stretched across the total length of a boxcar. Quick hitting, one-color tags and pointed sayings sprayed on tanker cars are also part of the mix.
Graffiti on trains can be fleeting. It can appear in a brief instant as a train clamors by at a street crossing. Sometimes I only see them for a matter of seconds and then they are gone as quickly as they appeared, much like a vivid dream. While bicycling throughout Detroit and along the city’s various railroad tracks, I’ve been fortunate to stumble upon a train yard or two. There I’ve seen stretches of shiny track where railroad cars are in a holding pattern, waiting to be pulled to far-away places. It is in those out-of-the-way places where I’ve had plenty of opportunities to view graffiti close-up. The crispness and colorful detail of this art is an amazing sight to see before it is rolled away to be viewed by a potential audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
For graffiti artists, I can only assume that their modern art form on a canvas of steel is the perfect palette and ultimate showcase for their colorful art. Take a look at the work next time you are stuck at a crossing counting railroad cars.
If you are interested in reading more about Detroit graffiti or trains, click on the links below.