Living in Laurel, I often get a front-row seat to train traffic. Over the years I've come to appreciate some of the really cool-looking graffiti often found on the side of train cars. I'm not talking about random, unreadable squiggles, though there is plenty of that too. I'm talking about some of the detailed, creative spray-paint artwork that adorns many train cars.
Trains made the West.
Montana has over 3,300 miles of active railroad lines, according to the Montana Department of Transportation. BNSF operates the majority of the routes (59%) and the company will soon take over the 25% that Montana Rail Link has operated since 1987. If you’ve spent more than five minutes in the Treasure State, odds are good that you’ve probably been stuck at a railroad crossing, waiting for a train to pass.
Every town in Montana has railroad tracks.
Ok, maybe not every single town, but most towns and cities in Montana have at least one set of tracks running through town. In fact, the tracks are generally the reason for the existence of the town. In some parts of the country, cities were formed because of their location near ports or rivers. Out West, it was train transportation that built towns.
Shortly after the first trains, came the first train taggers.
Graffiti has been around for thousands of years, and humans started defacing train cars less than 100 years after the first train tracks were laid in the United States. Trains.com noted that train graffiti really took off in the 1920s and 30s as hobos started marking cars as a form of communication.
Modern train graffiti originated in the 1970s.
The National Railroad Museum says that the modern style of train graffiti allegedly came from a Philadelphia high school kid nicknamed "Cornbread" who started tagging subway cars to get the attention of a girl. Tagging trains is illegal (trespassing and vandalism) and dangerous.
It's costly to remove.
Trainfanatics.com reports that it costs $1,000 to repaint the lower half of a train car. Judging from the amount of train graffiti I see, it doesn't appear that the train companies bother repainting the cars very often.
Stuck at the tracks? Relax.
I know... It sucks to get stuck at a train crossing when you're in a hurry. It always seems to happen when you're running late for work or dropping kids off at school. But if time isn't an issue, put your car in park, sit back, and enjoy the show.
If you have any pictures of awesome train graffiti you've spotted in Montana, I would love to see them. Send to Michael.Foth@TownsquareMedia.com or drop them in the comments.
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