Northlandz – Flemington, New Jersey - Atlas Obscura
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Flemington, New Jersey

Northlandz

The world's largest model railroad is a mind-boggling achievement. 

Model train sets are supposed to be relatively small affairs, allowing an entire railway line to fit on a table top. For Bruce Zaccagnino, however, this small-scale hobby became super-sized. Started in his basement 40 years ago, his train sets grew into larger and larger displays, until Bruce was forced to build a second basement. Eventually, he would excavate five of them.

But this basement project was merely a prelude for something larger yet. Initially, twice a year, Bruce would open up the basement to the public and give the proceeds to charity. People, however, were so excited and amazed by what they saw, Bruce decided it was time to “give it to the world,” and so Northlandz was born.

Northlandz, “Home of the Great American Railway,” where 135 locomotives pulling thousands of railroad cars run over eight miles of track and cross bridges more than 40 feet in length, is the biggest model railroad on the planet, and by many accounts a true wonder of the world.

Bruce has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, displayed by the amusing captions that describe some of the wacky scenes he has created. Like the old lady who wouldn’t sell out to the mining company and whose house now sits on a  narrow column of land that the miners have excavated completely around. When an 18-month-old kid climbed into the exhibit and wrecked some of scenery, Bruce simply made that area into a miniature train wreck complete with broken track and derailed trains. Nestled among the 4,000 buildings, 400 bridges, half-a-million lichen trees, and a 30-foot mountain, one can also find both a “toothpick farm” and an outhouse factory.

In addition to a scattering of railroad memorabilia, the building also houses a seemingly random collection of over 200 dolls and other works of art by local artists. Each day, Bruce, a concert organist, gives a pipe organ performance in an elaborate 300-seat concert hall. 

In Northlandz, Bruce wears many hats: creator, engineer, artist, musician, and collector. He puts on whichever one fits best that day. Ironically, Bruce began this as a love of art and entertainment and not of trains and claims he himself has never ridden one.

Know Before You Go

There is also a life-sized narrow-gauge railway outside that offers rides throughout the day for an additional charge. A warning to those with respiratory ailments: As one might imagine, keeping a massive and meticulously-detailed exhibit like the one on display at Northlandz clean is practically impossible. Although the building seems to employ ventilators, everything, including the air itself, is very dusty.