Founder John W. Herbert at Lee Yard, our first home.
BSRM was the dream of John W. Herbert, a U.S. Air Force officer and 30-year veteran of the General Electric Company. John was interested in all forms of transportation and he believed the north-south rail line through Berkshire County was a prime candidate for a scenic tourist railroad. In 1983, he authored a paper titled “Steam Dreams.” In that paper, he outlined a proposal to start an excursion railway that would use the Berkshire Line. Herbert’s paper interested several other people, and they began to collectively explore the possibility of bringing passenger trains back to the Berkshire Line. Funding came from private individuals and equipment was quickly sourced from recently retired New Jersey Transit passenger cars and locomotives from the nearby General Electric Transformer plant in Pittsfield. Conceptual plans to use steam powered locomotives were promptly abandoned due to high costs.
Train operations commenced in July of 1984, with tourist service between Lee and Great Barrington. Tickets were initially sold from a card table on the platform at Lee Station. The museum had no buildings. Trains quickly sold out and after just two seasons, John's concept was proven viable and more equipment acquisions followed. In 1987, the historic Lenox Station was donated to the museum and operations were relocated there in 1991. Plans were developed to expand BSRM operations to the Hoosac Valley and additional equipment was acquired to begin those operations. Despite its initial, overwhelming success, BSRM could not control the one keystone to its financial security: access to railroad track. Due to poor track conditions and liability concerns, BSRM was forced to cease mainline tourist service in 1989.
First day of BSRM train operations, July 1984 at Lee Yard.
Never idle, BSRM volunteers turned their attention to their new home at the historic Lenox Station. During the 1990's, volunteers constructed storage tracks and offered the “short shuttle” yard operation in 1992. The museum also moved equipment to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, MA and offered “Air Show Special” trains on base property from 1991 until 1996. Meanwhile, volunteers were hard at work restoring historic Lenox Station to its 1903 appearance. The restoration was completed in 1996 and in 2003 the museum celebrated the station’s 100th anniversary. Lenox Station is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the heart of the museum.
Lenox Station with summer excursion train circa 2008.
Despite loosing trackage rights in 1989, the earlier success of family friendly train rides did not go unnoticed by local leaders. Beginning in the late 1990's, efforts began to address the legal and infrastructure barriers to operating tourist trains on the Berkshire Line. In 2003, after several years of hard work by former State Senator Jack Fitzpatrick, Governor Jane Swift and Congressman Silvio Conte, among others, funding was awarded to the owner of the tracks to reconstruct 10 miles of infrastructure in return for an easement to MassDOT for tourist train operations. Traditional train rides resumed between the newly restored Lenox Station and Stockbridge Station in the summer of 2003. From 2003 until 2011, over 100,000 passengers rode BSRM trains. With a dedicated and reliable source of funding, BSRM began an unprecedented era of development, purchasing additional property, equipment and undertaking several major restoration projects.
However, history was doomed to repeat itself for in the Spring of 2012, MassDOT informed the BSRM that its easement was not renewed by the owner of the tracks. BSRM leadership responded quickly and took the opportunity to pursue one of the organizations early goals: bring BSRM trains to the Hoosac Valley. In the fall of 2015, after several years of planning and building a collaborative team with the City of North Adams, Town of Adams and MassDOT, BSRM's Hoosac Valley train ride became a reality. Over several million dollars have been invested by public agencies in support of BSRM's mission and our economic impact to the community.
As a unique cultural attraction among a wide variety of other venues, our Board of Directors continues to move the BSRM forward and solidify its place as a "go-to" destination in the Berkshires. We continue to pursue our Master Plan, develop educational exhibits and build positive, collaborative relationships that will have a positive impact on the cultural economy of the Berkshires. Our dreams of the future include the restoration of traditional train rides to Stockbridge, offering bike and kayak service on our trains to integrate our experience with the natural beauty of neighboring October Mountain State Forest. No matter where we end up down the line, we're glad to have you on board!
A BSRM Hoosac Valley train glides along newly installed track using a unique shared use corridor in December, 2017.