duel of the freights

030121 train tracks sm

We get long freight trains rolling through Davis. Those really long ones like you see in movies set in America, that roll across the country, miles long, maybe with a hobo in one of the cars warming his socks on a fire and ripping yarns and tall tales. In fact you might say Davis exists because of the railroad; the Union Pacific railroad build a railway triangle here after getting hold of the land from the farmers Jerome C. and Mary Davis. They are who Davis is named after actually; originally it was ‘Davisville’, but the town’s first postmaster, William Dresbach, decided ‘Davisville’ was too long for the very small envelopes they had back then, and shortened it to ‘Davis’. That was over a hundred years ago; presumably it will be shortened again someday to just ‘Dave’. It’s ironic then that old Billy Dresbach’s house, which is still standing downtown, now has the ridiculously long name of ‘Hunt-Boyer-Dresbach House’, which was ok because they developed the technology to make larger envelopes by then. This particular stretch of railroad is near my house in north Davis, where the big metal rail cars are parked for a while so that graffiti artists can finish what they were doing last time. I sometimes run along this way in the mornings. The trains aren’t always here; I came back a couple of days later to draw another section but it had gone. It’s been a while since I drew the trains, but I was just so into all the colourful graffiti I couldn’t decide which cars to draw, so I did a panorama. Workmen clanged about by a rail car further to my right, welding this and that, while I listened to an Adam Buxton podcast, an interview with Torvill and Dean. If I had interviewed Torvill and dean I would not have been able to stop myself from doing the music, pa-paa-pa-paa-pa-paa-papapa, the one they did for the cinemas. And then there would have been an awkward silence, and Torvill and Dean would have said, um, yeah, this is awkward, um, that wasn’t us. And then I would realize that I was thinking of Pearl and Dean. Which would be embarrassing, but at the same time would make a funny story to tell people later. Especially if it was true. I would have asked Dean if he still heard from Pearl, and for balance I would have asked Torvill if she still saw Keith Harris. Look I was a kid when they were famous, yeah. There were lots of double acts when I was a kid, it was hard to tell them all apart. I was always drawing, I was too busy to lift my head up to actually pay attention to anything, unless it was Tottenham, or Formula 1. Oh how times have changed. But there were a lot of double acts, you had Rod Hull and Emu, you had Rod Jane and Freddy, you had Little and Large, you had Cannon and Ball, you had Hoddle and Waddle, you had Dempsey and Makepeace, basically everyone was a double act. At this point in my pretend interview with Torvill and Dean they are getting ready to walk out, but I convince them to stay, that I would take it seriously. And as soon as they do I’d say, I’m skating on thin ice now eh. I have personally only ice-skated once in my life, when I was 15 years old, in Austria while I was on a school exchange trip. I couldn’t do it. It was cold, I fell over a lot, I had absolutely no idea how people actually moved. People would get on the ice and suddenly off they went. I actually took my skates back and said the batteries need changing. I also had Gluhwein for the first and last time then too, I think it was more glue than wine. 

The graffiti looks good on the side of these trains though, adds a lot of colour and turns them into a moving art gallery. I don’t live so close to the railroads that I hear them at night any more, but when I lived in south Davis I was a little closer to the main line that runs east-west and at 1am when the big long mile-long cargo train would roll through it would make my apartment rumble slightly. Even here though we do feel the vibrations of the earth moving slightly, it’s not earthquakes, it’s those long trains. Or maybe it’s bears or something. I liked drawing this panorama though. Click on the image for a closer view. 

by the california northern railroad

train engines under covell
Beneath the Covell overpass in north Davis, behind the Little League fields, train engines – diesel switchers, I believe though I’m no ‘spotter – lie in wait. They are very colourful. Freight trains pass this way going north to Oregon, Washington, Canada, the North Pole for all I know. The Eastbound trains travel on the other track, nearby our old apartment. The first night I spent in Davis, almost seven years ago now, I was kept awake by the mile-long freight train rumbling through at one in the morning. I got used to that pretty quickly. It wasn’t that loud, but even at a distance I could feel the ground shaking a little. We have our freeways and our bike paths and watch airplanes cruise overhead, but something about the railway makes us feel connected to the wider continent at large. I may never get the time to do a big train journey across America – to paraphrase Cars, these days travel is about making good time, not having a good time (I blame the shorter vacations you get here) – so it’s quicker and easier (and occasionally cheaper) to fly. I like sketching train engines though. Maybe that makes me a trainspotter? Anorak on standby.

duel of the freights

2nd st freight train

I finally got around to drawing the freight trains. Ever since moving to Davis I have lived near the railroads, and every day and every night epically long trains of freight cars rumble away across the continent, where if they’re lucky travelling hobos and cats will stow away on board and tell stories through the night until they arrive in some dusty town in Georgia. Well that is how I imagine it. This is a really big place, America. The trains really can be more than a mile long and I got used to their ever-present rumbling a long time ago. These freight trains are moored on the railroads that run alongside 2nd Street. Sometimes we drive down there so that my freight-train-loving son can see them. And yes, if you look closely, some of the graffiti says ‘Feck’. I don’t know what the rest says, but it probably says ‘Drink’ and ‘Arse’. 

Drawn on strathmore hot press paper with a uniball vision micro, and watercolour. I drew it on sunday, the 9th, but wrote the date wrong. I did that in my drawings all weekend. Perhaps I’m ahead of my time? Or maybe I just need to check the calendar every now and then.