2017-07-14 / Columnists

HORSE TALES

Barb Fisher Is New Corner Ambassador, Rain or Shine

When Barb Fisher first came to Mackinac in 1973, she spent a busy summer hard at work for Frank and Joan Nephew at Mighty Mac Hamburgers on Main Street. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that, in 2017 she would be back on Main Street, clipboard in hand, now responsible for managing Gough’s hourly carriages from her post on the corner of Main and Fort streets. But fate is a funny thing.

For more than 30 years, Barb has been a fixture at the Mackinac Island Public School as everyone’s favorite school secretary. She is responsible for handling lunch money, teacher meetings, principal reports, big kids, little kids, you name it. Barb also has had a long working relationship here on Mackinac Island with Mackinac Island Recreational Development (MIRD). She has put in countless hours at Great Turtle Park. In fact, she can still be found working at the school two days a week this summer, but the easiest place to find her now is on “the corner.”


Barb Fisher in her new role at Gough’s Livery Tours. Barb Fisher in her new role at Gough’s Livery Tours. For more than 35 years, that corner post across from Doud’s Mercantile had been run, rain or shine, by a unique Island personality, Joe Plaza. Joe was the owner and operator of Arrowhead Carriages, a horse-drawn livery business that ran hourly tours of the Island, as well as a transportation venue for special events, such as weddings and reunions. He was at the corner daily, loading the carriages and working the business, even though he was well into his 80s. Last winter, Joe sold his business to Dale and Jodi Gough. He was in the process of retiring when he died.

The Goughs and Barb Fisher and her family have been friends for a long time. The Fishers’ beloved pinto horse named Topaz has been a part of Barb’s Mackinac Island life for 27 years. Topaz is taken care of off-season by the Goughs.

One day they were discussing Joe’s role on the corer and who might replace him. The position needed someone with personality, a fair degree of savvy, organization, discipline, and the ability to understand the drivers and the horses. They needed somebody to endure Mackinac from its fairest and most sunny days to its wettest and most dreary. The obvious replacement was Barb. She thought about it and decided she needed a change and a challenge, at least for the summer.

So, this spring, Barb found herself on the corner with a blue Gough Livery polo shirt, hat, and Joe’s 35-year-old clipboard. To Barb’s amazement, she loves the job. As she is a “people person” to begin with, and was, even back in those Mighty Mac days, she has the ability to talk to people, answer a myriad of questions, and load a tour buggy.

Many of the Arrowhead drivers who had been employed by Joe are local residents, having grown up here. Both Tyler McLean and Tony Doud were children in the school when “Ms. Fisher” was the secretary (and when I worked for several winters as a substitute teacher). They like having her assisting them, and there is an inherent trust in working with her.

Even though she has spent decades here, Barb has a newfound respect for her summer place of employment. The street is timeless yet dynamic. Barb told me she has a new respect for the drivers and teams that have to dodge accidents and deal with arguments and lost people, assist visitors who have never seen a horse up close ridden in a horse-drawn carriage. Most people are eager to take a ride, and some people have no problem sharing a carriage with strangers. Often, those who were willing to double up on the carriage become fast friends after their tour.

Barb’s job is not just selling someone on taking an hour-long private carriage tour. She has taken into account the role that Joe Plaza created as an ambassador of Mackinac Island. Barb answers all kinds of questions every day and strives to maintain schedules of drivers and teams of horses. Usually she works a full day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., that doesn’t seem to stop. She is on her feet for most of it. There is also the coordination of special needs of hourly carriages and teams that are dispatched from Gough’s central headquarters, which we know as “The Big House,” and contact with the barns up in Harrisonville. It takes a huge amount of organization.

The “new Joe” was met by much encouragement from local residents. The management staff of the nearby Chippewa Hotel are more than happy to make sure that Barb has a hot cup of morning coffee, and Andrew Doud’s grocery is only a few feet away, so a well made deli sandwich is easily acquired. They have cheered her on.

Remembering Joe, I cannot help but think that knowing Barb has taken his spot would bring a wry smile to his face.

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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