A Q&A With “Mick Trackside,” Editor of the World’s Only Boxcar Graffiti Magazine
I don’t really know enough about “Mick Trackside” to write this intro. He’s from somewhere in America—I don’t know where. He has at one point in time held some kind of job in something to do with railroads. He has a family, and he uses the pseudonym “Josh,” and when I finally get his phone number, he tells me, “OK, you win.”
Perhaps it has something to do with the subculture he’s involved in for the past ten years: he is the editor of Faded Glory, a lo-fi, cut-and paste zine made in the old-school tradition (photocopies, usually), and rarely released in editions of more than 100, if that. Over the years it has chronicled boxcar, or “hobo,” graffiti a tradition far older than New York style, aerosol-based graff, and much more mysterious.
When we finally tracked him down, we asked Mick Trackside what he knew. This is what he would tell us.
Have you been approached many times for an interview?
I’ve been approached several hundred times. This isn’t the first zine that I’ve done. But we probably won’t get into that stuff, because I don’t like to tie ’em all together. I’ve put out a lot of anonymous, different zines. I’m a zine nerd.
What goes into it?
Well, back in the day of first doing zines, the only way to really do them was to go to Kinko’s and kind of hustle the system and get your copies printed that way. Or if you had a friend that would hook you up.
I still consider myself to be one of the last ones that actually still do a zine-type-zine, using cut-and-paste. I don’t do as many collages as I used to, but every page in my zines are cut and pasted by hand and scanned. I don’t really use the computer too much. Sometimes I’ll do layouts, but I don’t like to Photoshop or do any of that kind of stuff. I’m a 35mm kind of guy. You’re supposed to have a picture in your hand. You’re not supposed to have a file! If it’s not in an album or a box that you can pull out and show people, it becomes kind of artificial.
When did you start taking photos?
I took a photo class in high school and didn’t do too well developing my own pictures. I was one of the guys who went to the one-hour-photo and threw a stack of rolls at them.
But I got better and had a stack of photos that I could start calling myself something of a photographer. But a lot of my pictures I had to take really quick. I was out there documenting the railroad graff, and you gotta keep moving, you know. Well, it depends on what you’re doing in your life at that time: if you’re working for the railroad you gotta hurry up, you can’t just be taking pictures. Or if you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be, you gotta hurry up too.
You worked for the railroads?
I’ve worked for the railroad off and on.
Were you always fascinated by trains?
Yeah, as a kid I grew up with my dad having a train layout in his yard. He’d bring out the trains every Christmas. I grew up with ’80s toys, so we got the tail-end of the railroad stuff. Our culture doesn’t push trains as hard as it should because that was the birth of the country, really, the railroad. To me. And yeah, there was a huge trainyard where I grew up as a kid. We used to climb all over ’em you know. I had family members who got killed by trains. My family lived and died on railroads, that’s what they did in their lives and I think somehow it goes through the bloodlines. It just surfaces.
So when did the interest in boxcar graffiti come in?
I’ve always been into outsider art. I’m not too big into the aerosol stuff anymore. I used to be, back in the early ’90s, late ’80s. But I still appreciate good stuff when I see it. And I’m a huge fan of Barry McGee, that era. I know him. He’s a very nice guy. I’m honored to know him. So I have a traditional appreciation of graffiti. But I was getting burnt out of the bragging aspect of it and kind of like the… conceitedness. I like the more anonymous approach to things. So when I started looking at trains—don’t get me wrong, they were always there—but a certain time something bit me. Right before I started to have my kids, I was like, Things need to slow down, I’m becoming a father; I can’t be out breaking the law. So I started documenting this stuff because I didn’t know anything about it.
All the drawings they seemed kind of like, I don’t want to say there’s not talent, but they seem to be done real quick and always the same—and honest! The hobo graffiti to me was always very honest. You got the same thing over and over again, and it was done by somebody you could tell was out there trying to make a name for himself. I like the honest approach to it.
When did you decide to start Faded Glory?
Faded Glory was an extension of other zines I was doing. I started doing it towards the end of 2000. The name came from the fact that these marks fade. It just came out that’s what it should be called, to me. You get the glory of it all, you’re out there, people are seeing your stuff. Kind of like the fame thing with graffiti, but it’s more of a “glory” aspect, in my mind. I’m finding faded stuff from the ’70s, ’80s.
I was taught early on that books and stuff that you put out should have some kind of historical value. Not so much a coffee table thing with just pictures. I wanted to do interviews and some kind of historical information that people could somehow research and use.
Who’s your favorite boxcar graffiti writer?=
Do I just have to name one? JB King Esquire. Because there’s nothing really known about this one, and it started around 1850. And, you know, to come out in a liquor ad in the ’70s as a total folklore story about being a millionaire hobo, I mean that’s just so awesome, to me. Because what the hell was the meaning of it? I’ve been contacted supposedly by the family of this person and they told me, but I still don’t know if it’s true. So I like it because I don’t know what the hell it’s about. There are stories written about him being a millionaire, but it all seems kind of fake. And that’s the whole thing. It’s mystery. No matter who it is they need to know if they’re doing it, they’re participating in something that was meant to be a mysterious act.
Then Waterbed Lou, because that guy was just, from what I’ve learned about him he was just a great happy person, and he just loved to mark it everywhere. He wanted everybody to know his nickname.
The third one would be El Truncon, which was the tree stump. His drawing was so well done, and it was always uniform. And it had a hidden message in the drawing that you had to kind of research out yourself if you were really interested in the drawing.
What was the hidden message?
Inside the trunk were the initials F-A-P. It was [an insult] to the unions. I liked the punk mentality of it. That’s part of it, no matter what. Always. That was super rad that the guy would draw this killer tree trunk, really nice, but it would always have a little FAP in the veins of the wood. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite story published in Faded Glory over the years?
There was one where a guy wrote about the famous artist Herby. He was out in the trainyard and he saw a bunch of fresh Herby drawings, and when he came back and there was more of them. That to me was sort of cool. It’s kind of spooky in a way.
Do you have a big archive?
That’s something I truly value. You’ve got drawings from these guys over the years that haven’t drawn anything for anybody. And I’ve saved it all. Oh, hell, I don’t know how big it is. It’s big. I keep it in a storage unit.
Are there people that we would be surprised to learn are doing boxcar graff?
Go on Instagram. I never thought this thing would get this big. Who would think anybody would? These drawings all appear mysteriously. It’s a practise that happens over and over again. But people who are doing it need to learn: do not trespass, do not break laws, do not put yourself in harm’s way where you can get killed. ’Cause it’s a very dangerous place to be, out in the railyards. So if it’s somebody who has a malicious intent, stay away. But if it’s someone who is honest about the culture and who has learned about it, who am I to judge anybody else? As a documenter, I can’t judge anybody. I got to keep taking pictures, documenting what’s going on.
What else can you tell us?
Go back to school.
Image: Faded Glory/Mick Trackside