Wagner is the shop supervisor at The Original Wisconsin Ducks®, a tour company that offers land-to-water Wisconsin Dells tours on those lumbering WWII amphibious vehicles known as Ducks, a shorthand moniker for D.U.K.W., the military code representing characteristics of the vehicle: D = 1942 , U = amphibian, K = front-wheel drive, W = rear-wheel drive. He's been with the company for 35 of its 57 years, longer than anyone else on his crew. He knows his way around a GM motor circa 1942-1945 better than anyone, thanks to overseeing a fleet of 92 Ducks, the largest in the world.
When we stopped by the shop to chat with Wagner, we realized soon enough he's a soft-spoken guy who gives the mechanics who came before him credit for his training. Today, he supervises a crew of eight, including two of his sons, Ryan and Brad. He tells us his youngest, Kyle, who's just 13, wants to work here someday too.
While the Ducks, a popular Wisconsin Dells attraction, runs mid-March to early November, Wagner is there year-round. Six days a week during the busy summer months, and then full-time in the cold-weather months. He keeps busy in the off-months rebuilding the motors and getting the Dells Ducks ship-shape inside and out for the next season.
We asked Wagner if he's ever met a Duck he couldn't fix and he humbly replies "no." He tells us he was on a panel for the National Transportation Safety Board regarding uniform safety standards for Ducks, a nice feather in his cap.
And, we couldn't resist one last question: "Do you get asked for your advice on repairing cars?" "All the time," he told us. "All the time."
The Original Wisconsin Ducks® carry more than 300,000 visitors a year on their one-hour, 8.5-mile tour of the wooded trails and scenic waterways of Wisconsin Dells. And those 300,000 visitors have John Wagner to thank for that.