Bruce Zaccagnino has built a detailed microcosm of connected cities, complete with buildings, bridges, and trains.

For decades, Bruce Zaccagnino has been following the sound of his life’s calling: the clickety-clack of a miniature railroad.

Zaccagnino is the creator, owner, and maintainer of Northlandz, a hall of attractions in suburban New Jersey that houses what may be the country’s largest model railway—as well as a lavish auditorium, a doll museum, and an enormous pipe organ that Zaccagnino himself occasionally plays.

But the trains are Zaccagnino’s raison d’être, as a short documentary by Sylvain Labs, Greencard Pictures, and director Andrew Wilcox shows. Prior to Northlandz’s public opening in 1996, Zaccagnino spent four years planning and building the microcosm. Today, it comprises roughly nine miles of tracks, thousands of miniature buildings and urban streets, and hundreds of trestle bridges spanning mountainous landscapes. Scads of tiny trees, cars, and figurines inhabit swathes of custom-built urban grid. All told, the railroad-world spans 52,000 square feet.

“I don’t know why I did it,” he says in the film. “I just had to do it. I had no explanation. I’d wake up in the morning sometimes when I was constructing, or before I was constructing, and all of a sudden there’s a new idea. This is a whole new thing that comes into my head out of nowhere. Out of absolutely nowhere.”

The product of Zaccagnino’s creative drive is breathtaking. Forty-plus years after laying his first track, he still hasn’t quit building.

Watch the documentary, titled Some Kind of Quest, for an intimate portrait of an unusual artist, marching to the beat of his own train signal timer.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A heavy layer of smog over Paris
    Environment

    How Much Are You 'Smoking' by Breathing Urban Air?

    A new app can tell you (and it’s not pretty).  

  2. Maps

    Where Commuting Is Out of Control

    Lack of affordable housing and sub-par mass transit are boosting the ranks of “super commuters” in some regions outside of pricey metros.

  3. Modernist housing towers at night.
    Design

    The Slow Decay of Japan's Modernist Dreams

    The country’s postwar housing complexes were intended to represent a bold new era. Cody Ellingham’s eerie photographs emphasize their fading might.

  4. A sububan office park
    Design

    Can Detroit's Suburbs Survive a Downtown Revival?

    The city is experiencing a sustained real estate boom, poaching employers—even pro sports teams—from surrounding municipalities. Places like Southfield, Pontiac, and Dearborn will have to find ways to keep up.

  5. Transportation

    Why New York City Stopped Building Subways

    Nearly 80 years ago, a construction standstill derailed the subway’s progress, leading to its present crisis. This is the story, decade by decade.