Starting a business can be difficult. A lot of work needs to go into becoming established and staying relevant. Sometimes, however, dreams can become reality, as was the case for Justin Wagner, manager and owner of Fort Knox Paintball in Winamac.
“I always wanted my own business as a kid,” said Justin Wagner. “It was 2003, and I was in my first year of college studying business. I was looking to start a small business to help pay for my school.”
To get started, Justin Wagner turned to his father, David Wagner, for help generating ideas. David Wagner was an engineer who had worked with many of the large construction companies and traveled across the United States.
“In the early days, we were just trying to come up with something that we could do together and make some money on,” said David Wagner. “We had this property, and we said, ‘Hey, what can we do with this?’ We thought about campgrounds and all kinds of things, but we decided that we'd like to play paintball.”
From there, the Wagners traveled throughout the Midwest to research what paintball experiences were available already. They needed an idea of what’s being offered to discover what’s not. After their tour, the Wagners weren’t sure if people would come to Winamac just for a paintball field. They decided then that, if they made the best paintball experience in the Midwest, the people would come.
“We made a commitment to build Fort Knox on the basis that it would be the best in Indiana,” said David Wagner. “Throughout the years, especially in the early days, we didn't know if it was going to even work. We went five years without even knowing if it was going to work because we didn't really start making money until we were five years into it.”
Fast forward 19 years later and Fort Knox Paintball has expanded from one field to 14. Maps range from ancient castles to historic locations to futuristic locales like spaceships and apocalyptic landscapes. The Wagners pull their ideas for maps from pop culture: TV shows, video games, classic movies, and historic scenes.
“It was like artwork; we were doing things that no other paintball park was doing,” said Justin Wagner. “Our idea was to create a unique theme for each individual field that would in turn enhance the paintball experience. From feeling like you are in a shootout in an old west town to fighting off zombies on an abandoned highway, our goal was to make it as realistic as possible.”
The majority of Fort Knox’s business comes from people who have never played paintball previously, so the Wagners try to make the process of prepping as painless as possible. This includes having rental equipment available, running discounts for groups of 10 or more, and welcoming walk-ons with matchmaking queues that let them get into the game quickly.
Additionally, Fort Knox runs tournaments every season that see people coming from across the country to compete. The tournaments see two large groups, sometimes up to 300-400 players, duking it out on one large map for their chosen side. The next tournament is going to be a console war on April 15 and 16. Players can choose to support either Xbox or PlayStation.
“What we do is we open the field as one giant map, and then you'll have the Xbox side and the PlayStation side,” said Justin Wagner. “Then it's just a big battle that they play all day long. We try to make it fun, but it's not super competitive. We declare the winning side on Sunday, and there are trophies that are given out.”
Other tournaments for the upcoming season include Hollywood, where players can support either corporations or secret societies and dress up as actors; Marvel vs. DC, with special bonuses being offered to people who dress as their favorite characters; and Underworld, during which the conflict between vampires and lycanthropes will come to a head.
Since its inception, Fort Knox Paintball has added new maps as the Wagners got new ideas. This year, Fort Knox is excited to announce its 15th and final field, a scaled-down version of the top of the Willis Tower, as the family duo looks towards maintaining the fields they have.
“Our new field is like the rooftop of the Willis Tower. We'll have a one-deck platform with big antennas in the middle,” said Justin Wagner. “We try to make it creative and unique.“
Justin Wagner feels that, without his father and the Pulaski County community, Fort Knox Paintball never would’ve gotten as far as it has. His father especially has taught him much that allowed Justin Wagner to face adversity head-on.
“When life throws you curveballs, you learn from it by using a positive mindset,” said Justin Wagner. “He's taught me that you can overcome anything. You can do anything if you are willing to work. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Hard work always pays off.”
Fort Knox Paintball is located in Winamac off of US-35. To check out the maps it has available, group rates, and hours, visit its website.
To learn more about the wonderful activities offered in Pulaski County, visit the Pulaski County Community Development Commission's activities page.