About this site

What is Extreme Railroading?  It’s all about getting on the Tom Krens Express and seeing where it takes you.  Bound to be an exciting ride, into the past and into the future, with wide views on either side.  In the words of a certain unnameable presidential candidate, it’s going to be “Huge…terrific…incredibly great…trust me.”

No, for real!  Tom is no Donald.  He has the ballast, the weighty substance, to balance the hot air.  The latter is necessary to lift the project aloft, for a perspective that takes in all of the north Berkshire Route 2 corridor.  Tom has the experienced control to bring the craft to earth at its precise destination in Heritage Park.

The X-RR blog offers a distinctly personal perspective on the far-reaching developments proposed for North Adams, Massachusetts, by Thomas Krens, the former director of the Guggenheim Museum and developer of scores of museum projects around the world.  Before his twenty years at the head of the Guggenheim and its global branches, Tom was Director of the Williams College Art Museum and progenitor of MassMoCA.  Since leaving the Guggenheim, he’s led a consulting firm focused on cultural assets and economic development, with numerous and varied projects around the globe.

X-RR presents an independent but supportive view of proposals aimed to develop the “cultural corridor” of the northern Berkshires between Williamstown, home of Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, and North Adams, home of MassMoCA and other planned attractions.

Unless otherwise specified, X-RR is written by Steve Satullo, a sometimes contrarian friend of Tom Krens since we were freshman entry mates in Lehman West at Williams College fifty years ago.  I have closely followed his career in the business of art and the art of business through its many twists and turns, the superlative successes as well as the many big ideas and developed plans thwarted by geopolitical and economic vicissitudes.

Pre-eminent among the successes is of course the Guggenheim Bilbao, but emblematic of the thwarted plans is the evolving political and economic climate in China, which undermined his years of museum projects there.  But China’s loss is North Adams’ gain, as Tom turns homeward with his well-developed ideas, and finds the perfect location for his efforts locally.

I’m convinced that with this Extreme Model Railroad and Architecture Museum, along with the rest of the “cultural corridor,” Tom has had his greatest inspiration yet, the perfect marriage of art and populism; place and space; creative culture and economic development.

In Extreme Railroading, we will discover where these latest big ideas take us, in something like real time.  Woo-wooo, all aboard!

One thought on “About this site

  1. Jeffrey Zeeman

    Fantastic site! This is something I tried to send to Tom Krens, but I don’t have a current email for him and it got bounced:

    I’ve been a fan of North Adams’ potential since seeing the first David Byrne exhibit in 1996 while still a student at Williams College. I read with tremendous excitement all of the recent news about the plans for development in North Adams. Everything planned — the train museum, the museum of time, the new motel and possibly new hotel, rehabilitation of the Mohawk, transforming the Hoosac River into a real community asset and turning underused asphalt parking lots into green space, and the potential new modern art and motorcycle museums — all sounds truly fantastic.

    I wanted to share a few other ideas for the planning process that came to mind when reading about all of the wonderful projects under development:

    (1) One potential attraction in the North Adams area that has been left curiously unaddressed is a potential tie-in with J.K. Rowling’s announcement that Ilvermorny on Mt. Greylock is the American Hogwarts. I imagine that Ilvermorny may play a greater role in the many scheduled Potter-universe films, some of which take place in the U.S., that are on deck. Even if not, it seems like an opportunity (especially in conjunction with the train museum, which will attract huge crowds of young people) to create some sort of Potter-themed attraction in North Adams — perhaps a restaurant/bar that is the U.S. equivalent of the Three Broomsticks, or even something more extensive. It may even be worth reaching out to J.K. to she whether she would be willing to provide some inside info on whether any such venue will be featured in future Potter-related publications / films, and collaborate on a North Adams Potter-themed attraction (especially given her clear love of trains). At the very least, some “easter eggs” for Potter fans making a local pilgrimage should be included in the planned attractions — e.g., a Hogwarts Express as part of the train museum, or a time turner hidden amongst the museum of time.

    (2) Speaking of the museum of time, the concept sounds really fascinating and I think will be a hit. But one additional idea: has there been any thought of building (either as a dedicated side exhibit, or a separate facility) a museum of time travel? I believe no such thing exists anywhere in the country, perhaps the world, despite the enormous popularity of time travel throughout popular culture. The museum could integrate art and science and have great synergy with MassMOCA as well as MCLA and Williams College’s physics departments. It could also feature really fun, crowd-pleasing exhibits, such as a phone booth from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a Delorean from Back to the Future, a Tardis, and other exhibits that relate to the enormous critical mass of time-travel related fiction, art and science. I believe that it would be an enormous draw to North Adams.

    (3) Artist housing — it seems like North Adams has a huge amount of vacant housing stock, and also vacant buildings, that could perhaps be converted into affordable artist live-work spaces and/or maker spaces. As more and more cultural programming and museums arrive in the area, it seems like North Adams could be sold as a very appealing place for cheap artist housing. This would bring more people into a town with a declining population, bring more of a critical mass of artists likely to support cultural programming, and also likely result in general beautification of the town’s rougher patches of vacant real estate. One partner organization that I strongly consider reaching out to is Arts Space, which seems tailor-made for North Adams:


    (4) Synergy with MCLA and Williams — to the extent MCLA and Williams (especially the art history grad program) can be leveraged as a resource to integrate academic programming with all of the new energy in North Adams, that would be amazing. Speaking as a Williams alum, it would be great for there to be more regular transit, targeted towards college students, between Williamstown and North Adams on weekends, as well as other creative ways to encourage Williams students to engage with North Adams’ evolving cultural scene. One idea: perhaps each year Williams and MCLA could co-host a joint music festival at MassMOCA, involving artists chosen by students and faculty, and student bands as the openers. Mr. Krens should also engage with MCLA’s arts management students and consider teaching a Winter Study class for Williams students interested in focused engagement with the planning project. This is a great source of free labor and creative ideas, with the potential for star students to earn school-year internships and eventually entry-level jobs associated with the development efforts.

    (5) Beautifying the gateway into North Adams — several people I know who have only been to North Adams on a few occasions consistently make the same remark: they focus on the massive, prominent cemeteries that line Route 2, as well as other unsightly features on Route 2, heading into North Adams as you approach from Williamstown. Now that section of Route 2 will form the heart of a cultural corridor between MassMoca and the new facilities planned for the airport area, making it even more prominent. Perhaps some intense and creative landscaping — planting loads of trees, attractive bushes and gardens — or even some bold, eye-catching modern art installations (say, a series of Holzer-slogan billboards) along the Route 2 gateway into North Adams could obscure, and distract from, some of the overwhelming, ominous scale of the cemeteries and vacant or dilapidated buildings (which is especially depressing in winter) and draw the eye to more attractive and inviting features. Some improvements to the lighting, landscaping, and pedestrian / bike routes on Route 2 to make it seem a bit less forbidding and highway-like, and more attractive overall, could also go a long way. I think that would really help North Adams to feel more inviting to visitors arriving from the Williamstown cultural facilities to the west, integrating it even further into the rest of the Berkshires arts scene.

    Thanks for considering these ideas. I remain excited by the enormous amount of creative energy focused around North Adams, and I think that, no matter what, the town’s future is very bright.


    Jeffrey Zeeman
    Arlington, Virginia
    Williams College Class of 1997


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