If there's one thing that's cool about watching trains, especially in the era of widespread aerosol graffiti, it's the occasional sighting of a less obtrusive form of unauthorized railroad art, the freight car moniker. For several decades, hobos, railroad workers, and other aspiring artists have used chalk, lumber crayons or grease crayons to scrawl monikers on the sides of freight cars. Examples of the work of the more ambitious artists probably number into the tens of thousands.
a nod to Jack Kerouac - buZ blurr sketch on a boxcar at Roanoke
Witness the above drawing by a man known as "buZ blurr", or alternately as "Colossus of Roads". For several years, I've noticed his sketches of a benevolent-looking, pipe-smoking, bearded man in a stetson. Mr. blurr is reported to be a retired Union Pacific brakeman living in Arkansas. His drawings are usually accompanied by some sort of cryptic phrase or slogan, often a play on words or something capable of more than one interpretation. Some of the phrases make reference to trips he has taken.
At any rate, they're fun to watch for. Seeing one roll by is like receiving a friendly wave from a familiar stranger. And many of the signature phrases will make you think... "What did he mean by that"? In a world of mind-numbing spray-scrawled "F*** YOU"'s and unintelligible aerosol bombs and tags, it's refreshing to see something that hints at the use of one's intellect... to see something mystic, something clever, something poetic.
A bit of googling turned up a fair amount of information on buZ blurr, including descriptions and examples of his non-railroad related artistic endeavors and even his own blog. (It's not frequently updated, but it does provide a bit of insight into the meanings behind some of the slogans as well as admissions of his modus operandi: "I dove down to Hope to have access to railcars.")
In recent years, Mr. blurr's train sketchings seem to have attracted something of a cult following. The website of North Bank Fred -- proponent of train-hopping, railcar graffiti, hobo culture, and other things unseemly and illegal relating to railroads -- contains hundreds of buZ blurr drawings. buZ has been the subject of a number of interviews by journalists and art students researching the relationship between trains and graffiti. And a couple years ago, a pair of independent filmmakers travelled to Arkansas from Reno, Nevada-- by bicycle -- to track down the mysterious buZ, unsure of whether they'd find him and what to do if they did.
So I offer a tip of my hat to buZ blurr, whose drawings are seen daily on trains rolling throughout North America. As a fan, I watch for them every time a freight rumbles past. And as a dispatcher, it's cool to think that his sketches might grace the sides of a few of the cars on one of MY trains. Keep it up, buZ... I'll be watching.
np: Bill Monroe - "In the Pines"