Man looking at camera write with chalk on side of boxcar train.

buZ blurr writes his moniker, Colossus of Roads, on a train car. Photo: Bill Daniel

The Secret History of Railworker Graffiti, and Other Stories

To make the film Who is Bozo Texino? (external link) (2005), photographer Bill Daniel spent nearly two decades train hopping across America to document the folkloric tradition of hobo and railworker graffiti. The film chronicles Daniel’s search for what he describes as “the source of a ubiquitous rail graffiti—a simple sketch of a character with an infinity-shaped hat and the scrawled moniker, ‘Bozo Texino’—a drawing seen on railcars for over 80 years.” Beautifully shot in black and white, Daniel’s quest unfolds against sprawling landscapes populated by a ragtag cast of fellow freighthoppers, spurring his desire to better understand and even help to preserve the mysterious art form.

Of the countless people Daniel encounters in the film, a retired railworker named Russell Butler is a standout. Better known as buZ Blurr, and by his moniker The Colossus of Roads, Blurr hails from a family of railworkers and has been scrawling his messages on train cars for decades. In a recent interview with the Oxford American, Blurr recounts when he and Daniel first met:

In 1991, Bill Daniel began his hobo film adventure and was interrupted by our railroad union going on strike. This was in hopes of a decent raise after two contract periods under Reagan and Bush had promised a “kinder, gentler” administration, which was another fucking lie. Congress put us back to work under Presidential Emergency Board arbitration, which gave us another paltry raise, but stripped us of a lot of our work rules contracts that more than made up for it. Supposedly the three judges were made up of a union representative, a railroad rep, and a neutral party to negotiate—would you guess he was a friend of Bush? Anyway, I picked Bill up in Texarkana and drove back to Surrealville, where he did the filming that outed me as a graffiti culprit and then continued his journey by Greyhound.

In the spirit of Bill Daniel, buZ Blurr, and all those in search of new places and ideas, we hope you enjoy this week’s edition of Required Reading.

What We’re Reading

A curated selection of writing at the intersection of art, culture, and community, compiled each week by the editors of Storyboard.

The Price of Shares
By Rob Horning, Even

At some point this century…it will become the fiduciary duty of art museums to embrace the attention economy, which phones make inescapable both as a logic (what is popular is what is valuable) and a way of being (seeking attention gives our behavior meaning and momentum). This means leveraging whatever vestiges of prestige can be squeezed from art while obliterating the system of aesthetic values that, at least in theory, initially secured that prestige.

Read “The Price of Shares” by Rob Horning

Raising the Queer Voice
By Corrine Jasmin, The Bunker Projects Review

We must begin to create stories that cannot exist without diversity. We must start with inclusion and not simply just end with it. That is to say, we mustn’t cram diversity where it does not fit, belong, or is not wanted. Alternatively, we mustn’t tokenize diversity and throw it in…for pacifying sake. Queerness is not a pity party friend to toss into the mix to make yourself look good. It’s an identity.

Read “Raising Queer Voices” by Corrine Jasmin

Wait of World
By Matt White and Matthew Thompson, Oxford American

Born Russell Butler in Lafe, Arkansas, in 1943, buZ blurr is the pseudonym assumed by the enigmatic artist and third-generation, forty-one-year career railroad man. Rooted in the folk art tradition of hobos and rail workers, blurr’s iconic Colossus of Roads drawing of a pipe-smoking cowboy in transit—each iteration elevated by an esoterically poetic caption in language drawn from his daily life—has adorned tens of thousands of railcars across North America.

Read “Wait of World” by Matt White and Matthew Thompson

Reenvisioning the Internet: Decentralize the Web to Sidestep Corporate Control
By Danielle Robinson and Andy Pressman, The Walker Reader

If in the last few decades the web has been shaped by corporations, the next few will hopefully be shaped by artists and thinkers with the capacity to look beyond today’s web and create tools that protect privacy, defend marginalized communities, and push the limits of how the web behaves.

Read “Reenvisioning the Internet” by Danielle Robinson and Andy Pressman

On Flooding: Drowning the Culture in Sameness
By Soraya Roberts, Longreads

The web once made something of a biblical promise to give all of us a voice, but in the ensuing flood—and the ensuing floods after that—only a few bobbed to the top….There remains a tension that critics, and the larger media, must balance, reflecting what’s in the culture in all its repetitive glory while also nudging it toward the future. But we are repeatedly failing at this by repeatedly drowning ourselves in the first part. This is flooding…the practice of unleashing a mass torrent of the same stories by the same storytellers at the same time, making it almost impossible for anyone but the same select few to rise to the surface.

Read “On Flooding” by Soraya Roberts

About this Series

A curated selection of writing at the intersection of art, culture, and community, compiled each week by the editors of editors of Storyboard.