Click-clacks On The Tracks

By Kelsie O’Keefe
Mass Comm. Major
Photos by Sadie Jones

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. The incessant sound invokes eye rolls, head shakes, curse words and u-turns.

Eighty trains pass through downtown FM every day. That’s over three trains an hour or approximately one train every 18 minutes.

The ding, ding, dinging quickly becomes as bad as the beep of an alarm clock.

What I often forget to consider as I sit and huff about the wait, is that the very history of Fargo-Moorhead began with the trains that are causing the delay. In reality, these railroads have played an unparalleled role in the development of the FM and surrounding areas.


The first settlers began staking out area homestead claims in 1871 in expectation of the point where the Northern Pacific Railroad would cross the Red River. NP Railroad completed the bridge from what was originally Centralia and into Moorhead in 1872, continuing westward.

A year later, Centralia was renamed Fargo after William G. Fargo, a director of the NP Railroad and co-founder of the Wells Fargo Express Company. Moorhead was likewise named after NP director William G. Moorhead. It wasn’t until a year after Fargo established a train station that it officially became a city in 1875.

Waiting for crossing trains is just a part of FM life rolling on as it does and has always done. If it weren’t for the railroad Fargo-Moorhead literally wouldn’t be Fargo-Moorhead.


History aside, when on Broadway on the wrong side of a passing train and all I can do is put my car in park and wait to get on with the day, if nothing else, I try to see it as a chance to lean back in my seat, maybe roll the window down and listen to the dull roar of the passing cars as they present a rolling art show.

Sure the monotonous tags of Q Ball, DJ Eezy and Skiz8ter get old, but every now and again something magical flies by on the row of steel canvas and you don’t want to miss it. Like the years, days, hours, minutes of our busy lives. You can’t rush through them.

It’s like slideshow saying, “Hey. Stop. Here’s a mandatory minute to relax, slow down and appreciate the small things.” So that’s exactly what I do because whining won’t make the cars go past faster just like it won’t make the world spin any slower. I lean back in my seat and let my mind wander.

Traveling thoughts

As the steel cars roll through they take my thoughts with them, beyond the valley and toward the coasts to the various cities I envision their art work originates. I imagine overdramatized criminals of the streets with spray cans waiting for night so they can swarm out and tag their steel canvas, fighting for open spaces of clean, cool metal, their name destined to tread more miles than their bodies ever will.

To the average person a train car represents time wasted waiting, but to them it represents a creative outlet temporarily forged to take a part of them away. During the day they deal with bosses’ orders and customer complaints but at night they create massive murals of raw talent that art school students couldn’t touch. And as I’m imagining where they are they’re imagining where their art work is and it gets them through the work day.

Why didn’t these talented artists go to college? I suppose it wouldn’t give them an adrenaline rush like the illegal act of what is considered vandalism. But with a college degree and that kind of talent and determination, they too could go places and have their names read on more than just a box car. And sure it’s illegal but it’s way better than looking at blank box cars. I would say they’re doing the nation a favor, really. They’re doing me a favor anyway, because by the time these thoughts have crossed through my brain so has the train.

So as the red lights flash, the cross arms descend and the ding, ding, ding, ding of the train signal sounds in my ear, I’ll put my vehicle in park and take a moment in the day to pause, gander at the origin of my city and watch Skiz8ter’s name travel across the Midwestern plains.

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