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Posted on Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Graffiti taggers vandalize 6 rail cars at Artrain site

By Sven Gustafson

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comment from Midwest Entertrainment owner Larry Bear.

Police are looking for suspects after someone left extensive graffiti tags on six rail cars being stored at the Artrain rail yard on North Main Street in Ann Arbor, causing what the nonprofit's director estimates may be $60,000 worth of damage.


Artrain staff discovered the graffiti tags Saturday morning.

Photos courtesy of Artrain

The incident is believed to have taken place some time between 1:30 and 10 a.m. Saturday — the times when the last Artrain staffers and another worker who works near the tracks left for the day and when the vandalism was discovered, Artrain President and CEO Debra Polich said.

The railcars are owned by Greenwood, Ind.-based Mid America Railcar Leasing LLC and were brought to the Artrain site March 17, Polich said. They're being used by Midwest Entertrainment, a company with an address in Hillsdale that has been marketing weekend trips to and from Chicago from Ann Arbor; the first trip is scheduled for April 26-28, according to its website.

Photos shows the rail cars vandalized with the tags "Clams," "Raw" and others that are difficult to decipher. The vandals tagged all six of the rail cars, mostly on the side facing the Huron River. Polich said she also saw similar tags on a billboard along North Main Street near Depot Street.

"Whoever was doing this was on a mission," Polich said.

Ann Arbor police said only that there are no suspects and that they are investigating whether the tagging might be related to other tagging going on downtown. A lieutenant is spearheading the investigation.

Midwest Entertrainment owner Larry Beard said he plans to have the rail cars cleaned up in time for the company's first-ever round trip to Chicago later this month.

"it's just unfortunate that it occurred because it takes away form the type of atmosphere that we're trying to put forward with the train, which is a class act," he said.

While the repair estimates won't be available until later this week, Polich said she believes cleaning might cost as much as $10,000 per rail car. Polich said Artrain's own rail cars have periodically been vandalized with graffiti since they began keeping them on the site more than two decades ago.

"My memory says maybe a half a dozen times over that time," she said. "And generally it would cost around $2,500 (per car) to have our stainless steel cars cleaned with much less damage than these. Plus, they got windows … They're tagged underneath, many of the equipment boxes are tagged, what are known as the trucks. I mean, it's expensive."

Polich said the rail cars are insured. Ben Butterworth, owner of Mid America Railcar Leasing, called the situation unfortunate but not uncommon.

Artrain is a nonprofit arts organization founded in 1971 that delivers art exhibitions and cultural programming to underserved communities via rail.

Anyone with information should call Ann Arbor Police Department at (734) 794-6920.

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Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

Make it a Peace Train:

Frustrated in A2

Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

These kids are so annoying. I don't get it, we don't know who you are or what it is you're writing most of the time so what's the point???


Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 2:36 a.m.

Why use the slang ("tags") of the perpetrators? It only encourages them. How about "defaced", "vandalized", "damaged" . . .

Joe Hood

Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 1:25 a.m.

There is an App for that! At least if you want to bust graffiti vandalism in Albany, NY: Graffiti Buster I think software writers found a niche with their software, since there is no way a central authority can tackle such a distributed attack. But think of all of the distributed attacks on the outgoing school superintendent and then apply all of that divergent pressure that is Ann Arbor to the problem that is graffiti.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

This is an awful mess. The community near Whole Foods near Eisenhower is being hit with a massive amount of unsightly graffiti. The Cranbrook Park area and all along Oakbrook the street behind Whole Foods. However, their best target of all...that abandoned house between Oakbrook and Eisenhower (across the street from the fire station) is their canvas. This horrible eyesore has been abandoned for years and boarded up but most of it's boards have been removed (especially areas unseen by the road), a perfect place for criminals, homeless, a meth lab or .....graffiti hacks to deface with no risk of getting caught. Where's the police when you need them or the city council to destroy an abandoned home or the owners.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

"Whoever was doing this was on a mission," Polich said. A mission? I'd hardly call it that. Just some young punks who feel the need to deface other people's property.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

A sure way to increase tagging is to give them attention. Nice job


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

Last summer i caught 2 kids tagging things downtown like light posts during Top of the Park. I called 911 and the dispatchers put me on hold. They City didn't deem this a serious issue back then, so why now?

Local Yocal

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

What ever happened to that last kid that was caught? There was a article here with his photo. I believe that the tagging was on the building on Felch at Ashley.

Usual Suspect

Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 12:57 a.m.

Ask the guy two comments above yours.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

"The railcars are owned by Greenwood, Ind.-based Mid America Railcar Leasing LLC and were brought to the Artrain site March 17, Polich said. They're being used by Midwest Entertrainment, a company with an address in Hillsdale that has been marketing weekend trips to and from Chicago from Ann Arbor; the first trip is scheduled for April 26-28, according to its website." So what does Artrain have to do with any of this, other than being a parking lot for another company's equipment?

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

why does everybody think people who do graffiti use krylon? it's all about rustoleum


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Tagging is a coward's medium. If you so badly want to express yourself and/or gain attention, paint on canvas, sculpt something, write something, record something, perform something ... publicly. Not anonymously in the dead of night. If you must sneak around and damage property with spray paint, that just tells everyone that you don't have the stones to attach your real name to your work. And believe me, no one is impressed that you can spray-paint your tag all over town. That just makes you a common vandal, not an artist.

John of Saline

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

I bet the city would care more if their precious public art were vandalized.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

Yeah, John. It's all about public art....Sigh.

Kyle Mattson

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

I noticed on Saturday morning driving down North Main that a number of building along the road were hit with a new tag name I have not yet seen in town including the community center, all of the borded up houses across the street, the billboard (currently for aa state bank) next to the railroad overpass, and a number of other buildings. Anyone else notice the same, if so, have you seen the tag elsewhere in the city?

Joe Hood

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

It's not just in Ann Arbor:

Jojo B

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

A2 taggers: you guys SUCK. Banksy you are not. You choose poor targets that upset people, your tags are LAME, and you're just overall unclassy. The irony here is that you defaced the ART TRAIN with your cr@p. Go back to school.

Jon Wax

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Tired of seeing it pop up all over. It's not graffiti. it's just garbage. i've known graffiti artists. they actually have skill. this looks like some playstation video game clan tweekers. just a heads up: if i catch ya doin it, i'm not callin the cops. we can just "Talk it over" ourselves. file that one under communiuty policing. Peace Wax


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

I want the city to stop this...but I don't want any taxpayer money spent to stop it. And if the perps are caught, I want them thrown in jail...but I don't want any taxpayer money used to put them there. Also, public art and "Hurinal" and AADL "graffiti contest." Does that about cover it?

Nain Rouge

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1 p.m.

This tagging problem is getting really tiresome. Call it out for what it is: visual terrorism. Little punks need to be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!!!!


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Terrorism? Really? Calling everything you don't like "terrorism" is 'verbal terrorism'. Happy?


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

But it is just someones ART. From what passes for art in Ann Arbor it should be rated great.

Leslie Cypert

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

I honestly don't see anything wrong with an Arttrain that has been bombed by outlier artists. I think it is kind of charming.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

I have two cans of spray paint.Where is your car located ? I'm sure I can make it look more " charming "

Usual Suspect

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

You don't see anything wrong with somebody vandalizing somebody else's property?

Usual Suspect

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:29 p.m.

This is probably why MDOT is storing their future commuter cars up north in a quiet, boring retirement community.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

Don't they have any security in that Artrain storage area? This is sickening and stems to a large degree from the semi-acceptance of this deviant type of vandalism, disguised as a type of self-expression for a certain messed up segment of the population. What should the public expect when these jokers are more or less winked at by the authorities when caught at this wreckless, damaging behavior. The designs these perpetrators create are not artful renderings, but often gang related stupid stuff. Throw the book at any creeps caught defacing public property, be it train cars, buildings, overpasses or any other area that is affected. It's not cute or creative.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

As I have said...... Our government leadership is taking us down the path of shrinking earning power and reduced wages. On this basis, personal wealth is falling and many more having to rely on government and tax payer handouts to make ends meet. As a result, petty crime is on the increase and will continue to increase greatly over the coming years. Go figure!


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

Goober.....not sure what that has to do with anything.My guess it's wanna be thug hip hop types living at home with mommy and daddy, 3 meals , day , go to school and life for them is just fine and peachy.Many people on this site love to slam Ypsi ( many resorting to darn right lies to make themselves feel better ) but for some reason the problem is not as big as it is in Ann Arbor which by your theory it should be worse


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 10:39 a.m.

Find the vandals, make them pay for the damage, then give them some jail time.

Bob W

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 10:35 a.m.

Hate 'm! And by the way let's stop calling them "staggers." Call them what they are, VANDALS!

Bob W

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 10:37 a.m.

I meant taggers. Wish allowed editing of ones own posts.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 10:34 a.m.

Sure it's insured but... What is your deductible? What is next year's premium going to be when your loss rate is high and unfavorable? Will you even be able to buy insurance next year? When the insurance companies discover that they are paying big bucks for vandalism in Ann Arbor, all our rates will go up!

Joe Hood

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 9:36 a.m.

Here is how Western Australia deals with graffiti vandalism: In the day of smart phones, everyone has a camera to catch the perpetrators in action.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 8:17 a.m.

I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. But there are trains in other cities that all have been slammed with graffiti, some really cool art, and some not cool at all, but it is an art, and it is and art train, so they should find some really good artists to paint graffiti on it before the vandals, as some call them, fill the empty spaces and be creative with the stuff that is already there.

Jim H

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

Would the art look so cool if it was on your car or house? Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Elaine F. Owsley

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

It wasn't the art train that got vandalized. The story indicates it was only the stored commercial train cars.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 8:09 a.m.

What were they thinking? I am surprized that it didn't happen much sooner.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

It's not the first time they have been autographed...not mentioned in the article

Joe Hood

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

Unfortunately, this crime needs example punishment; it's always unfortunate that some first timer (trying to impress) gets caught and jammed with a big punishment. This is dis-respect for the property of others and endemic of a larger issue in our society that truly needs to be addressed. If you don't stop the nonsense here, what does it grow to in the future? And for those that don't think this is an issue, back up your opinion with the money and time to remove the graffiti. And please, stop using the word "tagger;" the word you need to use is "vandal."

Joe Hood

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 9:34 a.m.

I'm all for art, if you own it, do whatever you want to your appearance. Seek a commission for other works of art. Would you consider it art if I changed the configuration of your Internet router (and maybe it wouldn't work afterwards)?

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:04 a.m.

Clearly we must limit the volume of paint sales. We must ban the sale of spray paint. We must have mandatory background checks on purchasers. Etc.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

Just put the spray paint behind the counter with the sudafed.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

If we outlaw spray paint, only outlaws will have spray paint!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 11:19 p.m.

Embrace it. A rail car's not a rail car unless it's covered with graffiti.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 10:59 p.m.

The vandal traggers in my neighborhood wore their high school hoodies as they vandalized my fence and the neighbors house. I took lots of photos of you boys in action and called the police. It's only a matter of time until you are caught.

Jim H

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

Looks like a need for more police for faster response times. I'm glad they weren't breaking in or assaulting you.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:26 a.m.

Good job!

Dirty Mouth

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

Goodness, the tags and scribble are so ugly! If only we had talented graffiti artists in Ann Arbor. Sigh.

Dirty Mouth

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

Well, no graffiti is unrealistic. How about: Seems like all the AAPD does is look for suspects?


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : midnight

How about no graffiti.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:52 p.m.

Obliterate it with some higher quality grafitti


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

Someone call Banksy!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

Graffitti removal is not cheap. I get around $10 per square foot for removal from non-painted surfaces, such as stainless steel, brick, concrete, utility boxes and the like. Those train cars are big, and they are pretty well covered. If this is a repeat offense, I would recommend cleaning, installing cameras, and maybe painting the cars with a special clear anti-graffiti coating. It is not cheap, but it is cheaper than constant cleaning. If anybody needs graffiti removal post it here and I will help you out. One of the reasons it is so costly is that the equipment that can remove the paint safely without damaging the surface is very expensive, my largest machine cost over $5k. Also, it is very time consuming, there is no "magic eraser" for the vandals tools of choice, Krylon, Sharpie, and solvent based paint markers. Also, I am in agreement with those who suggest that this problem could be better approached by the city. As Ann Arbor grows, especially in the direction of high rise housing that supports a younger and more transient population, and de-emphasizes community, the graffiti problem is going to grow along with it. We need to insist that the city put more police on neighborhood patrols, and I also encourage neighborhoods to form their own crime watch efforts.

Dog Guy

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:29 p.m.

This vandalism also falls short of making Artrain an art train.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

It's spring ...their just warming up.....look out Zilwaukee south.....


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

It has already been christened by "SAES" some time back. They removed it but you can still see it.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

Ann Arbor wants to become a "big" city and they are learning to live with Big City crime. Yes, this is a crime though some in this town call it an artistic endeavor.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

Who is calling this act "artistic endeavor"? If you consider this "Big City crime" you need to get out more.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Looks like the little darlings also caught the Ann Arbor State Bank billboard on N. Main. Note to "CLAMS" - it's spelled "PUNKS"


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

the only description that fits these "little darlings" would certainly be deleted.....


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

I thought it meant loser....


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

Actually, that's "TACKY, TACKY PUNKS"

Usual Suspect

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

It happened within walking distance of the northwest side. Big surprise.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

It also happened within walking distance of the N. E.Side, downtown, the N. Side


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:06 p.m.

I think needs to stop showing images of the graffiti or perhaps blur it out. It just encourages the little delinquents.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

These jerks do this to get the attention of people who view their rubbish tags. So, responds by printing it and increasing the size of the audience. Stop it.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 9:15 p.m.

Great Idea!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

Excellent idea!! Please take heed, editors.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:59 p.m.

Um...psst...Highrise Hfietje...ann arbor has quite a graffiti problem. Why not spend a little on some bike cops, community policing and cameras...


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

I Agree! It's a huge ugly problem!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

"Polich said she believes cleaning might cost as much as $10,000 per rail car. " As long as it's tax dollars it's cool to charge whatever right?


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

They are insured, per the article. Where did you get the tax dollar claim ?

Angry Moderate

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

They've been vandalized 5+ times? Put in some security cameras.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7 p.m.

Pshaw...It's too easy to do that, plus would impinge on the civil liberties of the criminals.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

You can buy an infrared camera for under $100.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

PS Has anyone figured out what the "CLAMS" stands for? I hope the it does not refer to Clague Middle School!!


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:24 a.m.

It very well might, is that their mascot or something? I have seen this tag in the Clague neighborhood.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

How about sentencing anyone caught doing this to three years of cleanup of any of these messes found anywhere in the city, whether they did it or someone else did. And if they don't fill the requirements of the sentence, they get three more years of same. AND - do the perpetrators think this looks like something that does them credit? Are they proud of this mess? I don't get it. Put newsprint up on the walls of your own house and spray to your heart's content.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

I think you just found the solution to one of the problems with the proposed dog park - make the taggers clean it up!

Martha Cojelona Gratis

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

As long as nothing offensive was posted, just leave it... save $60k.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

This is extremely offensive to me. Disgusting, ugly garbage spray paint work. Graffitti can be beautiful, but these taggers should be ashamed.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

Fortunately you don't get to decide whats offensive! I would find ANY type of graffiti put on my property by someone else, OFFENSIVE!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Martha Would you mind sharing your address so they can practice there? If they promise not to post anything "offensive"?

zip the cat

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Why waste taxpayers money catching the perps The courts we have in this city just lets them off with a no nothing sentence


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 8:50 p.m.

Not every time. This one here has to pay upwards of $20K in restitution.

Kitty O'Brien

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Practicing for this summer's AADL sponsored graffiti contest.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

I'm not sure what's more annoying: the vandalism itself, or the tired "it's the AADL's fault" comments that accompany every vandalism story.