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BRUCE ZACCANINO: Welcome to Northlandz. Northlandz is the biggest model railroad in the world by far. There's nothing even close to it. We run about one hundred and fifteen trains, forty-thousand feet of track. We have three-and-a-half-story mountains. The mountains are made of plaster of Paris, and there’s almost three hundred thousand pounds of that plaster in here. There’s enough wood inside this building to build about forty-two large houses. There's some areas that have tremendously high detail. There’s a triple-spiral, triple-track-treacle bridge. That was about three months of steady work, day and night. The work in here was horrendous—nineteen hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop. Crazy, I know.

JEAN ZACCANINO: His patience is like two miles long. I’m Jean Zaccanino, Bruce Zaccanino's wife, and I’m a jack of all trades here, too.

BRUCE: I got the greatest wife in the world. She understands what my aspirations are, and she lets it fly. We’re up at five-thirty, six, and I'm right into building bridges. And it ends six, seven at night, and we sit down, have dinner, watch some TV, and often I’m building bridges while I'm watching TV.

JEAN: When he’s building I’m usually right there, either handing him a stick or something. And I don’t think that there's a couple that can be as close as we are. We’re together just all the time.

BRUCE: We love it. No vacations. No holidays. If we take a half a day to do something, we can’t wait to get back to Northlandz.

JEAN: Oh, no. We don't go vacationing, because we don't need to. We got a vacation everyday.

BRUCE: The question is often posed, you know, "What trains have you been on?" Well I’ve never been on a train. No, don’t really have an interest to be on one. Doesn’t turn me on.

JEAN: Well, he’s an artist, and he had these pipe dreams in his head. He’d get up in the morning and say, "Oh, I just saw the best bridge in the world. I’m gonna build it." And then he would make it. And these pictures in his head just came from nowhere. We told him he was a Martian.

BRUCE: Yeah, she thinks that Martians tune into me every night and plant little ideas in my head. You know, any artist, if he loves what he’s doing—Michelangelo still working in sculpture at eighty-nine, George Burns was doing comedy three, four years before his death. I think if you love what you're doing and you have something to give to the world, you do it. To retire is shallow.

JEAN: Absolutely. If there were some reason why we had to move out of here and go somewhere else, we would start all over again. He’d built his railroad, and I’d be right there next to him.

BRUCE: When you're an artist kind of person, you gotta keep going. Because I have ideas that can go on for a century.

Producer: Matthew Ozug / Executive Producer: David Isay / Production Assistant: Michael Garofalo / Funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Northlandz" premiered September 7, 2004, on Morning Edition. Copyright © 2004 Sound Portraits Productions. All Rights Reserved.


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This piece is available in the following audio formats [3:36 min]:



Jean Zaccagnino talks about the world's largest dollhouse (RealAudio, 0:26 min)

Photo of the model-train control room (JPG, 88kb)

Northlandz Web site

"Brewer Bell Museum," a radio piece about a bell museum in Virginia

"World's Longest Diary," about a man who has written a thirty-five million-word diary

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