By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Smiley Wise, the current streets foreman for Carbondale’s Public Works department, is a ubiquitous presence around town, checking out the condition of the streets, the progress of ongoing streets projects, and generally being a kind of unofficial ambassador of goodwill for residents and town workers alike.
But on Saturday, April 29, he will be one of the ramrods overseeing the town’s annual Waste Diversion and Spring Cleanup Day, Carbondale’s increasingly popular opportunity for clearing out the house or the shed at a subsidized cost (see related story).
Wise initiated the event soon after he came to work for the town 21 years ago, starting out in the parking lot behind the original Carbondale Fire Station at the south end of town, which he said was “a disaster” because he ran out of dumpsters before people stopped bring in junk.
“When they were filled, I had no more dumpsters, so instead of tellin’ people I wouldn’t take their stuff, I just dumped it in the parking lot,” he remarked, “and we had us a gawdawful mess. It took us a week to clean it up.”
These days, the event is largely run by the Carbondale Environmental Board and its chairperson, Julia Farwell. Noting that Farwell essentially took charge of the event a couple of years ago, Wise gave an enigmatic grin and conceded, “She’s quite a character” with whom he has reached “a happy medium” about how the day of recycling and trash hauling should proceed.
Wise was born in Leadville on May 12, 1948, and, with his family, moved to Carbondale at the age of 7. Over the years, he has worked at a number of jobs, starting with carrying water for construction workers at the age of 12, which he said was “the first job that I really considered a job,” though he also had been hired for potato picking chores by area ranchers even earlier, which earned him “a nickel for a half-sack” of tubers.
After quitting school as a junior at the old Carbondale Union High School, he also has been a horse wrangler for the Redstone Stables, where he learned to shoe horses and work with hot iron; an underground miner for 17 years at Mid-Continent Coal and Coke (Carbondale’s main industry for several decades in the mid-20th Century); a steel fabricator and driver of an oiler truck on the Glenwood Canyon I-70 four-laning project; a steel fabricator for Pitkin Iron (part of the Mid Continent family of businesses); a soldier in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era; and a Sno-Cat mechanic for the Aspen Skiing Co.
After being laid off by the SkiCo, Wise saw an ad for a job as a grader driver for the Town of Carbondale and, needing to earn a living to support his wife and children, signed on in 1996.
“It was a lot shorter commute, very short,” he remarked with a laugh, although these days he has a much longer commute from his home in Mack, Colorado (west of Grand Junction, near the Utah line), where he and his second wife, Terri, moved to about a year and a half ago to take advantage of lower housing costs.
Wise said he earned his nickname, Smiley, after getting two of his front teeth knocked out in a fist fight at the Redstone Stables job.
He said the boss of the stable got into the habit of calling out to him when he brought horses for the tourist customers.
“For some reason, I’d come ridin’ in and the guy would say, ‘Smile, Martin,’ and I couldn’t help but smile,” he recalled — giving everyone present a laugh at his gap-toothed grin and giving him a moniker that has lasted to this day.
Aside from his knowhow with machines, Wise also has something of an artistic streak that came to the fore in 2005, when he was helping to put up the Art ’Round Town sculptures that each year are gathered by the Carbondale Public Arts Commission.
“I was makin’ fun of some of the stuff they were calling art,” he recalled, “and a lady told me to put up or shut up. So I made a piece, and everybody said, ’Oh, you’re quite an artist. I didn’t know.’”
Two of his remarkable sculptures, fashioned of horseshoes welded together, can be seen on Weant Boulevard: one at the Mt. Sopris Historical Society museum cabin, the other in a corner of Glassier Park adjacent to the Bridges High School building.
“I’ve been called an artist,” Wise said with a bemused smile. “I’ve been called a lot of things.”
But mostly, he’s known simply as “Smiley,” a man who makes things happen and who has a friendly word for just about everyone, every day.