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7:00 p.m. - Friday, Mar. 23, 2007
16,870th Smokin' Joe
I threw my back out because of the freight train blocking the north-south street about mile from my house: because all the cars trying to go south on that street turn east and come down my street in hopes of finding another north-south street that's not blocked, and some of them decide they want to turn around and go back north, AND they use my driveway to turn around, AND Dog#3 barks whenever someone turns into my driveway, AND that arouses my curiosity as to whether it's someone I'd be interested in (e.g., the UPS guy with something nice for me), AND so I get up from the computer and move toward the window and start to lean forward to rest my hand on the windowsill so I can peer through the narrow opening between my house and my garage and OWWWWW! Something about the angle I was leaning just threw my back out. I went down on my knees and it was about 15 seconds before I had the courage to try to get back on my feet. Then I did the stiff-legged zombie shuffle back to the chair in front of my computer.

Whoever it was in the driveway, they were going to have to manage without my help.

It's always something stupid and trivial that throws my back out leaning on the windowsill, or getting up from the couch at the wrong angle, or pushing a snow shovel down the driveway. I never throw my back out hoisting the chain saw, or flinging the heavy brush mower around, or carrying 44-pound sacks of dog food.


They finally got that train moving. It stopped around 10 p.m. last night. It was blocking the street when I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, I saw that they had uncoupled it in the middle and moved the front half forward so that the road wasn't blocked. Late in the afternoon, some train-crew guys showed up in a van. One stood in the middle of the crossing wearing a bright yellow safety vest. He started motioning to all the cars to turn east and come down my street. Then I saw the front half of the train start backing up, very, very slowly. The yellow-vest guy hopped onto the last car of the front half of the train and rode it back until it met up with the back half.

And then they messed around with it for about an hour, maybe longer, before they finally got it moving.

The train's sitting there all day gave me a chance to take a picture of Smokin' Joe's 16,870th graffito (click for full size):

Smokin' Joe

I went on Google to find more info about Smokin' Joe and found a photo of Smokin' Joe's 18,135th graffito taken by someone named William J. Manon, Jr., who appears to be a photographer and a railroad fan.

That got me thinking. It's easy enough to Google a recurring chalk train graffito if it's got a name. But what about one of those nameless recurring graffiti, e.g., that guy in a sombrero sleeping under a palm tree? So I Googled "railroad graffiti guy sleeping palm tree" and, amazingly enough, found out who was behind it, after wondering for all these years:

Even Jack Burke, spokesman for Canadian National Railway, which owns Wisconsin Central, speaks in reverent terms of some of this traditional chalk writing remembered from his days working on the trains.

One drawing in particular was "eloquent in its simplicity," Burke said, "a very simple but elegant graffiti of a gentleman in a sombrero sleeping under a palm tree.

And this particular chalked artwork could be seen on railcars, particularly on wheels, but on railcars all over the United States. I'm going back 35 years now.

And it eventually turned out to be a guy working for the 'MoP' in St. Louis - the MoPac, Missouri and Pacific. It was done with an economy of strokes, but it was still a fairly detailed piece of artwork. It was the railroad equivalent of the 'Kilroy was here' of World War II fame," Burke said."

Then I tried googling "railroad graffiti guy with pipe in mouth" another one I remember seeing a lot when I used to live in Hammond but that yielded nothing pertinent.

I did happen upon a book about train graffiti once when I was browsing in Barnes & Noble, but I didn't buy it because it cost $29.95 and why should I pay $29.95 for a book about train graffiti when I can go out in my backyard and see train graffiti for free, but on the other hand my back yard doesn't have any information about the people behind those various recurring chalk graffiti that I find so charming.

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