I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.

For a blog centered on road trips, the United States presents an almost endless list of attractions of the unique, the strange, and the odd for future posts. For instance, there is the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas. The World’s Largest Cherry Pie in Michigan. The World’s Largest Grandfather Clock in Wisconsin. The World’s Largest Pistachio in New Mexico. The World’s Tallest Thermometer in California. The World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle in Illinois. I have visited the World’s Largest Elephant in Margate, New Jersey and the World’s Largest Indoor Miniature Village in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in early November, I added another to the list of roadside Americana… the World’s Largest Model Railroad!

Opening in 1997, Northlandz is the work of Bruce Williams Zaccagnino, a model railroad enthusiast whose basement train set kept expanding, and expanding, and expanding. Eventually outgrowing his home, Zaccagnino bought the property for Northlandz and took over four years to build the three-story tall model railroad set. The set is comprised of over 8 miles of model railroad track, over 400 bridges, the tallest model mountain is over 30 feet tall, and guests who tour through the entire set will walk over one mile.  I had driven past Northlandz several times until this weekend, when my wife and I stopped by to see if it lived up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It most certainly did.

Map of New Jersey, with red pin in the location of Northlandz
Located about sixty miles west of New York City, Northlandz is located in Flemington, NJ.
2012 Honda Accord, parked in front of Northlandz building.
After seemingly unending weeks of rain in New Jersey, the weather for the drive to Northlandz was gorgeous, if a little windy. Our area was under a gale warning until 8:00 pm.
Desert canyon train set, with train yard and river in foreground.
The first few rooms of the train yard were nice, but we wondered if we had overpaid for our tickets, as there did not seem to be much to see.
Canyon mining railroad set.
Turning a corner, however, we were not prepared for the sheer scale of the model train set. After walking for almost twenty minutes, we saw a sign that we had only proceeded through 25% of the exhibit…
Roundhouse train yard with nine trains in the roundhouse.
The level of detail was impressive. I spent several minutes examining this working roundhouse.
House on rocky pillar in a quarry pit, surrounded by mining operations on rim of crater.
It quickly became apparent to us that Northlandz does not take itself too seriously. For instance, the sign by this quarry scene says, “Grandma’s Pit: Everyone sold to the quarry company except Grandma, so the quarry company dug around her and gave her a bridge to get out.”
Diorama of town with railroad bridge across canyon, and a derailed train hanging off the bridge.
Or this scene of a derailed train, whose sign said “On this unfortunate train, all the passengers got off safely!!! Look at all the spectators this wreck attracted!!!”
View of gulch with wrecked diorama.
Or Lytle Gurly Gulch: “In the year 1999, a 18 month old little girl climbed into this scene. She subsequently spilled and destroyed the bridge. It was a busy time of the year for Northlandz. So it was decided to stage this ‘train wreck scene’ instead of rebuilding the bridge.”
Diorama of the world's largest toothpick farm.
Or the World’s Largest Toothpick Farm?
Sky High Miniature Gold Course, set on scaffolding.
My favorite was the “Sky High Miniature Golf” course.
Steel trestle bridge over town and river.
One of four hundred bridges in the model.
Mountain village scene, with a pizza hut model on the top of the hill, and several small cars around it.
When the attendant at the entrance to the exhibit told us most people took several hours to go through, we were skeptical. However, after spotting small details like the Pizza Hut franchise (center) and the Mater toy from Toy Story (bottom left), we began to understand his point.
Pipe organ keyboards on stage.
The tour is interrupted by a large concert hall which holds a 2,000 pipe organ.
Amusement park model, including a roller coaster and a ferris wheel.
The level of detail was astounding, such as this model amusement park.
Cliffside mining facility.
The displays of creativity were truly astounding… such as this mountainside mining operation.
Panorama of train exhibit.
This panorama captured only a small segment of the exhibit.
Model train yard.
The train yard holds some of the hundreds of model trains at Northlandz.
Large trestle bridge on a mountainside over a crevasse.
The hours upon hours this hand-built bridge must have taken is impressive.
Alice in Wonderland doll exhibit with Alice and several other characters having a tea party.
Northlandz also houses a doll museum, such as these characters from Alice in Wonderland.
Dolls in a dance hall, dancing to a band composed of dog musicians.
Or this dance hall.
Switchboard controlling trains, which fills a 30-foot long wall in a  room.
We were even able to walk past the control room for all of the trains.
Share certificate for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company.
One of the exhibits was a wall of shares of different railroad companies. This one was for one hundred shares of The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, issued in 1957.
Steel trestle bridge over a large canyon.
The sheer size of the display was amazing. I’ll definitely come back!

Perhaps this short video can help to capture the scale and detail of Northlandz:

Small train station outside for child-scale train.
A small train station outside of the building is for a small-scale train, geared toward children, which operates during warmer months.
Baggage cart at train station.
The station included this antique baggage cart.
Exterior of Northlandz
We stayed until closing time, and then spent a few minutes talking to the attendant about this fascinating roadside attraction.
Exterior of Marhaba restaurant at dusk.
By the time we arrived in nearby Flemington for dinner, the sun had set. On a co-worker’s recommendation, we tried Marhaba, a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Table with two drinks, pita, and baba ganoush.
We started with complimentary pita bread and baba ganoush. My wife had mint iced tea, and I tried Vimto, a British cherry soda that is highly popular in the countries of the Arabian peninsula.
Chicken shawarma with pickled tomatoes and cucumbers and basmati rice.
My wife ordered chicken shawarma with basmati rice and a cucumber and tomato salad.
Beef and lamb gyro with basmati rice and cucumber and tomato salad.
I went with the beef and lamb gyro, with basmati rice and cucumber and tomato salad.
Car odometer which reads 118071 miles, trip odometer 183.1 miles.
On the trip, the Accord passed the 118,000 mile mark. Everything is running well, although I did take the car for an early transmission fluid change, as the torque converter felt like it was shuddering a little. New fluid in the transmission, and all seems well.

Northlandz was a fascinating exhibit, and a testament to one man’s passion for his hobby (along with, as the museum continuously reminds you, the understanding of his patient wife). Northlandz is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday year round from 10:30 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is $15.75 per adult, seniors are $13.50, children are $10.75, and children under 2 years old can enter for free. While the prices might seem high, the proceeds go to keeping this literal “mom-and-pop” operation running and well maintained. If you’d like to learn more about Northlandz, I would recommend this excellent article from Atlas Obscura, which includes a link to the owner and creator of the museum. Would I recommend visiting Northlandz? Absolutely.

Thanks for coming long on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.

  1. That is so cute! I don’t know if I missed this detail, but what “scale” is the set? I used to model railroad in “N” scale which is smaller than “HO.” In fact, I still have a train set that’s permanently mounted to a board – complete with mountains, rivers, lakes, and homes that illuminate. I need to give it to my niece and nephews. Lol at the train wreck scene in this one. Good stuff! The miniature golf course was pretty clever too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tyson! Most of the set is HO gauge, although there is a section of Lionel (O Gauge) that was inoperative because it was being restored (which was a shame, because I had a Lionel set as a kid). The sense of humor for a lot of the dioramas was terrific, and helped make it even more memorable. Thanks for reading!

      Like

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