Lyle Smith

Obituary of Lyle C. Smith

It was 2003 and Lyle Smith had just finished what was arguably his most famous job in a construction career filled with famous and interesting jobs. This time, he was a key part of the Schiavone Construction Company's creation of the Zankel Concert Hall underneath the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was a job that required his special touch as the "blaster", the guy who administered hundreds of dynamite blasts into the rock under Carnegie Hall to carve out the new concert hall. He did it knowing that one stick of dynamite in the wrong place could drop Carnegie Hall into the ground and put his name in the history books forever. But tonight, at last, he was holding court with friends and workmates at the pre-show reception at the "Hardhat Concert" at the hall in celebration of the job's completion. In that circle, the old joke was inevitably spoken: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice …" Lyle laughed: "Hell, I got there with a few sticks of dynamite." Lyle Clinton Smith – who died in Fredon Township, New Jersey, at the age of 86 on December 14 - learned the realities and habits of hard work early in life. Born in Denver in 1934, he grew up as one of eight siblings on a 500-acre working dairy farm in tiny Tabernash, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. He moved to Denver when his parents died, worked on a farm and eventually went into construction work. When he turned 20, he moved to New Jersey to join the construction company of his brother, Orrie Smith. Once he got to New Jersey, he started building highways (including Route 29, Route 46, and I-80 through the Delaware Water Gap, and the Connecticut Thruway), worked on the Round Valley Reservoir, and the Water Tunnel #3 (also known as the High Bridge Tunnel) for New York City. Somewhere in that time, he found himself at Niagara Falls, working on the Niagara Power Project, at the time the biggest single digging project ever undertaken in the United States. When a 1960 LIFE magazine story featured "The Niagara Dig," there was a full-page picture of Lyle, at the bottom of a huge shaft, signaling up to a crane at the surface. But he was identified only as "a metal-helmeted workman." He smiled about that and always said that at least his friends and family knew that good-looking "metal-helmeted workman" was him. As it was, he would eventually have lots of chances to make up for his narrow miss for construction worker's fame this time. So for now, it was back to the Delaware Water Gap, he had lots left to do. Eventually, Lyle found his way to Frelinghuysen Township, NJ, when he was working one of the Delaware Water Gap jobs. One day he stopped in for lunch at the Big K restaurant and met Emily, the daughter of the longtime owner, who served him lunch. Many more lunches and dinners followed at the Big K, and eventually Emily became his wife. With Emily, Lyle eventually assumed co-ownership of the Big K from her father, Julius Koscielny ("Pop Pop") and they re-named it "Lyle Smith's Big K". The Big K was the heart of the community along Route 519, with a general store, a deli, a restaurant, and a bar, with its own softball field across the street. They sold the business in 2004 after it had been in Emily's family for 75 years. It was also about this time that Lyle went to work for Schiavone Construction Company, under the direction of Ronnie Schiavone. Lyle credits Ronnie as being the biggest influence in his professional life in a successful working relationship that lasted nearly 40 years. Lyle introduced Ronnie into the tunnel industry and was instrumental in making Schiavone Construction one of the premier tunnel contractors in the country. Lyle worked his way up from superintendent to Project Manager of Water Tunnel #3, one of the largest projects in the company's history. His specialty was as a "blaster", dynamiting rock so it could be hauled out to create underground tunnels for subways and water tunnels. Lyle was a major player for Schiavone's construction of Water Tunnel #3, a water supply tunnel forming part of the New York City water supply system connecting to the upstate water supply. Work began in 1970, and at its time it was said to be the largest capital construction project ($6 billion) in New York City history. The name Lyle Smith and NYC Water Tunnel go hand-in-hand, as he worked on the tunnel system for over 30 years. After the drilling and building of a 710-foot deep shaft, a 24-foot diameter tunnel was constructed that was 700 feet below ground level and nearly six miles long. It was completed in 2008 and opened in 2013 to serve as a backup to New York City's Water Tunnel No. 1 and Water Tunnel No. 2. Lyle was the project manager for New York's 63rd Street tunnel in the late 70s, oversaw construction of the Pavonia PATH station in Jersey City in the early 80s, and spent many years after that working on the Eastside Access transit tunnel from Queens to Manhattan. A lot of his jobs were of such notoriety that New York City Mayors – Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg – attended the "Holing Through" (final day completion) of the projects, and Lyle was always ready to tell each of them stories of tunnels, railways and water. He retired in 2007 from Schiavone Construction, but dabbled as a consultant for them for key projects for a few more years, including the renowned 2nd Avenue Subway in New York City. He was a longtime member of the Moles (25+ years), a prestigious fraternal organization of the heavy construction industry, and at one time served as Sergeant-at-Arms. In retirement, Lyle lived out his life driving tractors, dozers, front-end loaders and lawn mowers on his 45-acre farm in Frelinghuysen Township, mowing pastures, painting fences, building structures. He spent 25 years watching over his whiteface Hereford cattle, a dozen or so horses, and boarding sheep who spent their summers in his pastures. He found some time for his beloved Gibson Guitar – a very special 1959ES 300TD - but he said it was too late to get to Carnegie Hall, no matter how much he practiced. However, his love for country music meant that the Big K would host a country dance or square dance each month. In the meantime, Emily was staying busy feeding the countryside's stray cats that found their way to their front porch. Lyle loved helping Emily tend to the cats and was in charge of chasing off the occasional raccoon, opossum, porcupine, skunk, bobcat and white-tailed deer that showed up. Lyle took great joy in this in his final days at home. He leaves behind his wife, Emily, with whom he shared 48 years of marriage. Lyle also leaves four children from a previous marriage: son Christopher Smith and daughters Theresa Padgett, Colleen Ruzika and Sandy Smith. He has six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. At the time of their marriage, Emily brought him a stepson, Terry Zwarych, and a stepdaughter, Cherilyn Frei, who he loved and proudly and happily raised as his own children. And after a lifetime of going full speed in everything he did, he also leaves behind a large collection of loving relatives and friends in the Big K community and elsewhere, and countless respectful professional associates in the heavy construction industry. Due to the safety precautions of the pandemic, with New Jersey seeing increasing signs of community spread, and out of respect for those who have passed and respect for frontline workers during the pandemic, the family has chosen to host an in-person memorial service for Lyle later in 2021. Details will be announced later. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Lyle's name to the Blairstown Ambulance Corps, PO Box 85, Blairstown, NJ 07825, or to the St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, PO Box 156, Great Meadows, NJ 07838. No services will be held at his time. A private family interment will be held. Arrangements are under the direction of Newbaker Funeral Home, 200 Route 94, Blairstown, NJ 07825.

Final Resting Place

Pequest Union Cemetery
15 Cemetery Road P.O. Box 104
Great Meadows, New Jersey, United States
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