James Michener said “the master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure... He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.” You might think he was talking about John Fisher.
John, (or Johnny, as he is known around the ranch), generally “works” at the dude ranching trade for 14 or 15 hours a day, seven days a week (in high seasons). That’s too much for most people but he is not ready to strike for better working conditions. “I love this job — the
people, the lifestyle and the surroundings. I love coming to work,“ he says.
Since 2002, John Fisher’s ofﬁcial “work” title has been president and general manager of the Home Ranch, but the title he prefers is dude rancher. It’s a title he’s held since 1987, when he ﬁrst took the reins as general manager of C Lazy U Ranch, earning Mobil Five Star and AAA Diamond awards in the process. In that time he’s been on the board of the Dude Rancher’s Association and is known throughout the dude ranching world for his horse sense, his warm hospitality, and his commitment to quality horsemanship and holistic resource management. He studied agriculture at CSU and has managed working cattle ranches. To meet him you’d think he was born to the job and raised on the range. But he admits that wasn’t always the case. In fact, he was a greenhorn, back when he was just a young dude.
“I didn’t know the ﬁrst thing about agriculture,” he laughs, “I was just a kid from Wisconsin who needed a summer job.” For John, that summer job turned out to be his destiny. “My ﬁrst exposure to agriculture was in the summer of 68, when I was 14. I needed work so my brother invited me to come out to Colorado, where he was working as a wrangler at a dude ranch. I took a train out West and got a job there putting up hay and washing pots and pans.” Turns out that dude ranch was C Lazy U. John fell in love with Colorado and ranching that summer, and “that was it,” he says. He went back to Wisconsin, but every summer he went back to Colorado and worked at C Lazy U from the time he was 14 until he was 22. Some people ﬁnd their calling early in life, and John’s calling has always been tied to horses, people, skiing, hospitality and family.
John’s spirit of hospitality pervades the atmosphere of The Home Ranch, where guests are treated like an extended family. One longtime guest said that “a stay at the Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado is like a visit with your favorite aunt and uncle. They meet you at the airport and put you up in their best guest room. Everyone knows your name and cares if you have a good time. Your aunt trots out her best recipes and you fear you’ll gain ﬁve pounds before the week is done. There’s constant banter about the weather, what would you like to do today, did you have a good time, is there anything you need. You swear, if you’d forgotten your socks they’d try to ﬁnd a pair...”
John says he learned about that caring dude ranch hospitality from watching Katie Schoenberger, the lady who owned C Lazy U when he has a young man. “I was in my 20’s and she was in her 70’s and somehow we became very good friends. She was a true mentor to me. The thing she taught me was care. She cared,” he recalls. “She really cared about showing her guests the best time, the best of everything. She could keep track of everything from light bulbs to the tenderness of last night’s beans, to the oil change that was needed to be done in that car. She was liberal with praise. She let people know when they did a good job. She had her ﬁnger on everything at the ranch. She was a magniﬁcent lady, an incredible employer and a phenomenal hostess. “
Like his mentor, John wears a lot of hats. On any given morning you might ﬁnd him conferring with the Home Ranch staff before their workday begins. He might mosey into the dining room to share a cup of coffee with some guests, ﬁnd out what their dreams are for the day, or debate upon the ﬁner points whether to stand or stay seated when your horse has to pee- (John’s advice: stay seated.) Midday you’ll ﬁnd him down at the barn helping people get in or out of the saddle. He might go out for a ride with guests or else he’ll be out on the ranch somewhere, moving a salt block around so the horses and cattle can trample the sagebrush. He’ll answer the phone, pour lemonade, get bandages, change a plane reservation, and then drive someone to the airport. In the evening he’ll come back to pour drinks and share stories over dinner. Some nights he’ll call in his backing trio of musicians, play guitar and croon a few Jimmie Rodgers songs. He’ll even teach you how to play the spoons. On a rare occasion he’ll break out some blues piano in the style of Commander Cody. That’s a days work., and that’s what he loves about it. “My typical workday is that I have no typical day. I get to meet incredible people from all over the world and every day brings something different. I work from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. but not a minute of it is spent in rush hour trafﬁc. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Recall that “the master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure...” In fact, John’s work is his play. “When I was 18, working at C lazy U, a guest asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I said, I’m doing it. I want to be on a dude ranch. If I weren’t a dude rancher, I honestly don’t know what else I would do.”