12 June 2008

Train Tags: Beyond Hobo

Train Tags: Beyond Hobo
by Sam Caplan, December 14, 1997

In the following paper I will explore the art of train tags, their significance, and promote my assertion that train tags are indeed art.

The obvious starting place in such an exploration is in determining a definition of train tag, as well as establishing criteria of what does and does not constitute a train tag. My definition, which I base on my own observations, research, as well as input from train tag purveyors and aficionados [see below] is: a visual moniker containing a simple picture, signature, date, and optional words, drawn onto the side of a boxcar, usually with chalk or ink. As for criteria, to be considered a legitimate train tag there must exist several repetitions of the same tag on many different boxcars. Furthermore, the tag should not be confused with other boxcar graffiti that doesn't fit the definition. For example, many graffiti artists have painted expansive murals on boxcars, as well as other graffiti writings including gang tags and spontaneous etchings. The essential difference in train tags and these other markings lay primarily in the purpose behind the creation of the writings. Also, train tags are rarely, if ever, written in spray paint.

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