For nearly five years in the 1990s, Bruce Zaccagnino spent 19 hours each day outfitting the interior of Northlandz — the 52,000-square-foot Flemington, NJ, attraction he debuted in 1996, and which its not-so-modest marquee proclaims to be “the world’s largest model railroad.” The result, a whimsical display where electric-powered choo-choos dart through quaint villages, skyscraping cities and rugged landscapes, gives a strong impression that Zaccagnino is loco for locomotion. But the 73-year-old says he has never ridden a real train.
“No desire, I guess,” Zaccagnino tells The Post. “The real love is the engineering [and] the artistry.”
Soon to enter its 21st year, Northlandz remains a marvel, even if it’s been eclipsed by a newer, 73,195-square-foot “Miniatur Wunderland” model railway in Germany. It’s not just the sight of 80 trains running daily along its nearly 40,000 feet of track that’s impressive. It’s also the roughly 400 bridges made of balsa wood (the longest of which spans 40 feet), more than 1,000 model buildings and the nearly 300,000 pounds of plaster sculpted into deep canyons and 30-foot-tall mountains that keep visitors coming back — and Zaccagnino on his feet.
“I do it with great enthusiasm and passion,” Zaccagnino says. “It keeps me going.”
It’s also how he earns his living. Formerly the head of a successful computer-game company named Quantum Quality Productions, which he sold in 1994, Zaccagnino dove head-first into Northlandz because his pastime had grown too big for his home.
In 1972, he and his late wife, Jean, bought seven acres near the Northlandz site and built a ranch house, where their basement was dedicated to model train sets — a hobby he developed as a teenager. Over the next 18 years, he expanded the basement to five times its original size through tunneling. They’d open the space to the public twice a year, donating all proceeds to charity, but the couple wanted to widen their reach.
“So my wife and I decided: ‘Let’s give it to the world,’ ” Zaccagnino says. And thus, Northlandz was born.
After entering the massive nondescript building, visitors begin their trek along a plaster hillside complete with factories and houses, all set behind Plexiglas. Turn the first of countless corners, and there’s a mountain range with rocky cliffs, trees and bridges running over blue bodies of water. From that point, if you focus on every detail — including model Pizza…