On the Backs of Dragons

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

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| This is the 95th story of Our Life Logs |

While working on the farm as a young boy, I had time to daydream. As I milked cows and plucked chickens, I played the “what-if” game with myself. “What if,” I’d wonder, “I had a million dollars?” Or, “What if I could be whatever I wanted to be?” In this setting, among fresh cow manure and grunting pigs, I cultivated the imagination that would eventually lead me to create my own world.

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I was born and raised in Idaho during the 1960s and 1970s. I grew up working on farms and ranches in my community, as well as in my own backyard. My father was a hard-working banker, accustomed to receiving calls from concerned neighbors in our small town about his children—most often about me. “Dale,” they would say, “did you know your son is driving around town with a naked woman?” My father did not find my explanation that it was merely a mannequin neither funny nor redeeming. My mother raised her kids with smothering love and a wooden spoon, curved perfectly for paddling her children (especially for stunts like driving around with a nude mannequin).

Me as a young man on our family farm.
Me as a young man on our family farm.

I learned a great deal of life lessons from these two fearless beings. The most prominent being how take a job from start to finish. If I were assigned to clean the barn, Dad would come check my work, tell me what I did well, and instruct me how to do it better. My parents told me that I could be whatever I wanted in life, if I worked hard enough and saw my jobs through. Basic tasks became challenges that I couldn’t wait to tackle. I left for college in 1986, at the age of 21, with confidence and motivation.

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College seemed like the natural next step for me, although I didn’t have any real idea of what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to do it. Not long after my enrollment, I met a girl who was my equal in imagination and zest for life. Immediately, I was attracted to her spirit of adventure, and she admired my passion for life. We got married just 10 months after knowing each other. I can’t imagine a better partner for my journey.

With my wife at a formal party.
With my wife at a formal party.

I changed my major multiple times before I realized that I was wasting my time. I decided that, although I have always understood the importance of education, I would find mine out in the world by simply diving into it. I will say that my time in college gave me the understanding that there was a vast number of opportunities available for what I wanted to do with my life. It was with this optimism that my wife and I began our young family.

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I jumped into sales jobs after leaving college, although I ultimately knew I did not want to work simply to make money. I wanted to love what I was doing. For the time being, however, I sold windows and doors, among other products, with 100% commission. It didn’t take long for me to hit the ceiling of potential in that career field, and I soon became dissatisfied with the block on my growth. A prior offer I had turned down from my father-in-law to come work for him in his specialized line of work was suddenly worth reconsidering.

My father-in-law designed museums and was then working out in Wisconsin. He owned a wax figure museum and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum which is a franchise museum featuring discoveries and oddities from early 1900s world traveler, Robert Ripley. My wife and I decided we would take a chance. Because the initial manager job my father-in-law had offered me was no longer available, I took an enormous pay cut and began working for my brother-in-law in screen-printing. We moved into my in-laws’ basement with our four kids and tried to get by on $7 an hour.

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Before long, I began daydreaming again. I had always loved creating games and spent much of my childhood doing just that. Once, I created an original haunted house for the neighborhood kids. And another time, I spearheaded outrageous game planning for our family reunions. Later as an adult, I crafted original games for kids to play at my own children’s birthday parties. I never did grow out of playing. With this mindset, I approached my father-in-law with an idea I had to increase business for his wax figure museum. Not only was it affordable, but it would give customers a chance to do something they would not necessarily expect to be doing at a wax figure museum.

I created an on-set mystery where Michael Jackson’s white glove had been stolen, and between wax characters such as the seven dwarves, Billy the Kid, and Alice in Wonderland, customers had to uncover what had happened to it. Customers who solved the mystery could put their names into a drawing for a television set we had purchased. The idea was a great success and brought some new movement back into the business. From this experience, my father-in-law asked me to head up the marketing department, but my wife and I had other things in mind. It was at this point I slowly began to realize that I could create a career path out of doing the things I loved, and I had the perfect partner with whom to do it.

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My wife and I wanted to take our little family and move out West. So, in 1996, we uprooted to a promising location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in which we would construct and open our own Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. That museum was only the beginning. Seven years later, my father-in-law was ready to sell the lease on his wax museum building, and we jumped on the opportunity. It would serve as the building in which my wildest dreams would come to light.

Living in the West, especially in Wyoming, we had plenty of opportunities for long car rides. Our kids ran cross country and track and field, and it was not unusual for their competitions to be up to eight hours away. Because there was a lot of time to kill, my wife and I began with those same, “what-if” conversations I had entertained as a child. “What if,” we said, “we could make a museum into a game?” “What if we could bring families together through this game?” “What if” we dreamed, “it might work?”

Together with my wife, we renovated the wax museum into an original business concept called Wizard Quest, which we opened in 2005. Wizard Quest is a 13,000 square foot fantasy-themed building in which tourists in the Wisconsin Dells area can have an experience vastly unlike anything they have done before. The building is made up of four realms, Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, collectively called the Quadrasphere, that questers explore to find clues and answers to questions that gains them points, which can be used to either free or shackle the four wizards of each realm, depending on which way their conscious leads them through the backstory of the Wizard Quest world. The area is filled with secret passages, riddles, tunnels, and slides. There are small hidden passageways for the young ones to uncover and riddles or mysteries for an older crowd to solve. It is designed to bring the different strengths of different people together in a manner that challenges and thrills.

Wizard Quest from the outside.