ST. IGNACE, Mich. - A piece of Michigan’s most iconic bridge has found a new home in the Southern Hemisphere. As sections of the Mackinac Bridge’s grating are replaced, remaining pieces that used to be taken to a scrapyard are now auctioned off twice a year to collectors.
For Brendan Fisher, a heavy haul truck driver from South Bend, Indiana, his most recent assignment as a heavy equipment mechanic for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) meant a chance to bring along a piece of the 38-foot section of grating he purchased in November 2020.
According to a release from the Mackinac Bridge Authority, the section Fisher posed with at the South Pole will be permanently enshrined in Antartica:
Since placing the sign at the South Pole would mean it would eventually become buried in snow, Fisher instead obtained permission to place the sign on permanent display at the USAP facility.
The 51-year-old South Bend, Indiana, native has long felt a connection to civil engineering marvels, including the Mighty Mac. His father, John Fisher, is a civil engineer who “designed half of South Bend,” Fisher says, including the East Race Waterway. The Mackinac Bridge is his father’s favorite bridge, which prompted him to purchase the piece of grating to make gifts for family, like a lamp he made for his dad.
When Fisher’s back home in the States, he’s a heavy haul truck driver. He’s hauled some interesting equipment over the years, from the mundane (cranes, mining equipment, boilers) to the unusual, like a replica tank used in the movie Saving Private Ryan and a crane used to unload the Space Shuttle from the NASA 747.
As you might imagine, Fisher is quite the traveler, both for pleasure and for work. He’s working on the U.S. National Parks (he’s currently at 43 of 63), including Isle Royale and American Samoa. He traveled around the world during his six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, but he’s done his own adventure trips as well. In fact, it was on a journey that started in October 2021 that set him up for his current stint at the South Pole.
“I left St. Joseph, Michigan, on an old trawler and started the Great Loop, and I knew that when I got back and crossed my wake that I wanted to do something different,” Fisher said. “So halfway through the Great Loop, a friend referred me to the Antarctic program, and after passing many physical requirements and background checks, I was approved to work down here.”
Fisher found he’s in good company there, spending time with fellow travelers and adventure-seekers. Among the 135 currently stationed there, six are Michiganders, including Troy Leighton from Traverse City, Hans Suedhoff from Gaylord, and Paul Guerreso from Farmington Hills.
“All the people down here are big travelers, and to hear their stories is really neat,” Fisher said. “Everyone here is very educated and capable.”
Fisher’s time at the South Pole will last from October 2022 through November 2023. During that time he’ll work nine hours per day, six days per week, welding and working on the tracked vehicles at the station, such as dozers, tractors and PistenBullies. Other jobs at the USAP facility include conducting various scientific research projects, such as making meteorological observations. Fisher is also a pilot and earned a certificate for landing at the highest elevation.
As summer begins in the Southern Hemisphere, the bridge authority release says the South Pole will enjoy minus 25 degree weather, with days of 24 hours of sun.
Fisher also brought along additional pieces of the bridge, with the hope to work with the outpost’s machinist to create next year’s official South Pole marker.