Finding the World’s First Paintball Field – the Conclusion

Preface: At the end of this article you will wind announcements of two programs that are underway that will be used to both support Bob Gurnsey’s leukemia fight and to install an historical roadside marker at the site of the first game.  If you wish to participate or help out with these programs, please feel free to get in touch with me here at 68Caliber by emailing

Recap: I’ve spoken to founders of the game (Bob Gurnsey, Lionel Atwill), the man who found the property that was used (nicknamed the Woodsman here to maintain his privacy), a former High School Principal and ‘dome home’ owner, members of the Henniker Historical Society, consulted decades old road maps of the area obtained at local libraries, waded through thigh-high snow drifts, trucked through tire-grabbing mud, wandered through various patches of woods in New Hampshire and ended up coming back – almost full circle – to the location that I and my wife Karen had originally pegged as the likely site for the world’s first paintball game.

It was an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for the paintball community and I’m gratified to see so many (on so many different websites) reading along and getting excited about finally being able to pinpoint where that first game took place.

Yesterday, we’d finally arrived at the location that was indicated by the Woodsman, the Principal, Bob’s clues, clues found in Sports Illustrated (via the Paintball X3 website), consultation with local field owners and that general back-of-the-neck-hair-raise feeling you get whenever you are in the presence of something special.

The only problem was, the rock (paintball rock) that just absolutely HAD to be THE rock (see yesterday’s entry for an image) didn’t match the photos.

No matter how hard I tried to shift my angle, twist my head or wish for that rock to match, I just couldn’t get it to.

In frustration I resigned myself to multiple weekends of searching the woods on either side of the local road for the right rock.  I got in touch with the Woodsman and sent him video and images, along with a detailed map of the route I’d taken to get there in the hopes that maybe I’d done something stupid like turned left when I should have gone right (actually, maybe it was ‘should have climbed yet another steep, rocky incline to the next valley over’ or some such).

The Woodsman offered to come out to the location and help me search, but that get together was still some weeks away.  Not wanting to waste any time and trusting to luck, I spent several trips methodically walking the woods, searching for a single boulder.  Lot’s of initially good prospects wilted under intense scrutiny.

I had to take a break for a couple of weeks due to scheduling conflicts – but I didn’t stop thinking about it.  Now matter how hard I tried – and despite the evidence to the contrary – I was still convinced that that original rock had to be IT.

My next clue came from wasting time and being lazy. (Never let an opportunity to slack off pass you by, you never know what’s going to come of it!)  I was watching the TV news and somewhere in the world there was a mudslide.

Huh.  ‘Rocks DO move’ was my very next thought, quickly followed by:

the ground rises as time passes (accumulated humus)

boulders settle and move – particularly downhill – as a result of the effects of weather

boulders also calve – split and flake – from repeated heating, cooling and the effects of the expansion of ice.

Maybe, just maybe the boulder I’d christened ‘Paintball Rock’ had gone through some changes over the past thirty years (lords knows I have!)  If that was the case, I might or might not be able to find some evidence of that taking place.

The very next day I made an afternoon excursion back out to the location.  Sure enough, if you lined that rock up with the picture from S.I. and matched the parts that did fit, the ‘nose’ was missing.  If you dug down around it just a little, the proportions got even closer.

Examining the area of the rock where the nose would be (if it had had one), I found that the surface was jagged and not at all weather-worn.  Looking around the area close by, I found the nose.

Paintball Rock had shorn its nose, settled deeper into the ground and had slid downhill about 4 to 8 feet.  Trees in the background lined up with the picture if you slightly adjusted your location to where the rock ‘had’ been 30 years ago.

Finally, I’d found the site of the first game.  The directions matched, the memories matched and, giving the effects of aging its due, the rock matched.

Now the really hard work would begin!


I have already made application to the NH State Government office (New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources) responsible for the erection and maintenance of roadside historical markers.

We’re all very lucky in two regards – those being that the location is NOT off of a state road (which would require a minimum of 50 years before a marker can be placed) but is instead on a local road.  Our 30-year old date for the event is just barely ‘old’ enough to qualify.

We’re also lucky in the fact that state road markers are funded by the state and therefore require a much longer and detailed process for approval.  As it stands, the requirements and the costs are minimal.

They are:

submit the wording for the sign

provide documentation that verifies the event and the location

obtain signatures on a petition from 20(!) New Hampshire residents

Raise the money to pay for the sign (approximately $2500 to $3000 when all is said and done)

The process takes approximately a year.  One year and a couple of weeks from now will be the 30th anniversary of that first game, so I’d like to shoot for having the sign installed then (June 27th, 2011).

Making that date is going to be tough, but it’s worth trying to make it happen.  The worst outcome is that the sign will be erected some few days or weeks after the actual anniversary.

I’ll need three things from the paintball community:  first – my proposed wording for the marker is below.  If you want to try your hand at editing it or writing your own version, I’ll post the suggestions here.  (Bob Gurnsey has also offered to review and suggest, so the final draft will be sent to him as well.)

I’ll need names on a petition (addresses as well – sorry, but you’ll have to be a New Hampshire resident for your name to count, but there’s no harm in letting the Historical Resources organization know that folks all across the country support this effort!)  I’ll be sending a petition form to the commercial fields and stores in New Hampshire (actually a downloadable PDF).  I’ll just bet that we can get 2,000 – or even 20,000 – signatures instead of the required 20.

Finally, we’ll need donations to pay for the sign.  I’ll be setting up a pay pal account to receive those donations and will be posting the total as it accumulates.  We’ll need to get to $3,000 as quickly as possible.

I’d like to raise more than that – far more.  Here’s what will happen to any funds that are in excess of the purchase price of the sign:

1. if there is enough, establish a fund to pay for annual maintenance of the sign and its location

2. have a second sign made and stored – just in case

3. donate to Bob Gurnsey’s Leukemia fight

I’ll be making the pay pal site & etc available to any website that wants to run a banner or box ad and will provide copies of receipts & etc., to demonstrate to all and sundry that the funds collected were disbursed for the intended purpose(s).

At the dedication of the sign and in coverage of the event (when and leading up to when it happens) I will also be listing the names of contributors who do not wish to remain anonymous, and we’ll establish a page here on 68Caliber that will carry the same information (companies – an opportunity to get a little promotional value out of donating to a good and worthwhile cause).

As always, if you think of something that you believe will help this effort along, please get in touch with me here at 68Caliber.



In the woods near this spot, on June 27th 1981, twelve individuals* gathered here to participate in the first formal game of paintball.

Participants in that game would go on to establish the first commercial paintball facility in Sutton, NH and would found the first manufacturer and distributor of paintball gear in New London, NH.

Over the next few years, the sport would be exported to the United States, Canada and would become a major international sporting activity.

(On the opposite side of the sign)

The First Twelve Players

Lionel Atwill, Ken Barrett, Bob Carlson, Joe Drinon, Charles Gaines, Jerome Gary, Robert Gurnsey, Bob Jones, Hayes Noel, Cark Sandquist, Ronnie Simkins and Richie White.

Richie White is credited with winning the first game.

Robert Gurnsey, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel would establish the first commerical paintball operation in New London, NH the following year.

*********** a resident of XXXXXXX, XX located the property on which the first game was played.


As one way to raise some donations for both Bob Gurnsey and the Historical Marker program, I am pleased to announce that, working in conjunction with Bob Gurnsey and Adventure Games Paintball of Weare, NH, we will be hosting a CLASSIC PAINTBALL CHALLENGE.

Twelve players will have the opportunity to play paintball using the original 12 player format, just exactly the way that the very first game was played.

This will be THE FIRST of many CLASSIC PAINTBALL CHALLENGES we intend to host and this is the way it will work:

entry (which will include paint and air) will be pegged at a base fee that covers the field’s expenses (staff, insurance) and a minimal contribution.

Then, each of the 12 player slots will be placed on Ebay for bidding.  Any fees paid over and above the base fee will be donated to Bob’s leukemia fight, the Historic Marker program, or both.

Details are being finalized right now (with some really cool extras we hope to be able to offer) and should be ready for announcement in approximately one week’s time.

I expect the first twelve players to be paying a decent amount to participate in what we hope will eventually become a regular fund-raising game.

No one but those original twelve invited guests was ever given an opportunity to play in the ‘first’ game – but now EVERYONE has a chance to play in the recreation of that first game, and to contribute to some good causes along the way.

I’m working on arrangements to tape and provide a DVD of this game and on other ‘surprises’ that will enhance the experience.

As always, please feel free to contact me here if you have suggestions or questions!

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>