By Pamela S. Meyers
Are you a bowler? I haven't bowled for years, and back when I did give it a shot, I wasn't very good. I recall being dubbed the "gutter ball queen" or something similar. That's how bad I was.
|Resource: Lake Geneva Regional News;
By the time I was bowling, the bowling alley used automatic pinsetters, but back in the early to mid-forties pin boys still did the job. The ad at the right is from Lake Geneva's local weekly paper in 1943. Note how it encourages people to have a little fun during the stress of war days. Those alleys are long gone and people bowl at a much newer bowling alley east of downtown, but many memories remain.
The sport of bowling dates back to ancient Egypt in 5000 BC. Over the centuries, variations of the game evolved into what it is today. I'm not sure what they did for pinsetters in 5000 BC, but I do know that back in the early 1900s and likely before that, pinsetters were necessary. Pin boys were usually recruited from the streets, giving disadvantaged boys a chance to earn a bit of money.
That was how it was done up until the late forties when the first semi-automatic pin-setting machines invented by Gottfried (Fred) Schmidt, became available. The fully automatic machines wouldn't come on the scene until the 1950s and have been upgraded on a regular basis ever since. The semi-automatic machine still required a person to gather the knocked down pins and drop them into a "table" of slots in the familiar triangular arrangement. The operator manually lowered the table to the floor then pulled a lever to cause the pins to turn upright. The table was then lifted and pins were ready for the next bowler. At the same time, the operator dropped the ball into a return slot that sent it back to the bowlers. A bowling alley on Chicago's south side is the only alley around that still uses this system. Here's a link to a YouTube video taken at the bowling alley. You can skip the introductory part and go to about 1.37 to observe the process. https://youtu.be/EKBYDqKpNpU .
Being a pin-boy wasn't easy. An article by former pinsetter states he sometimes came away with broken ribs and lots of bad bruises. Getting smacked by an erratic ball or flying pins happened at times but for a young boy, the pay made it worth the aches and pains.
By the 1960s bowling alleys began acquiring the automatic pinsetter machines and human intervention became a thing of the past until one of the machines broke down and maintenance was required. And that's how it is today. League nights are incredibly busy with all lanes running and breakdowns sometimes occur, causing the bowlers to take a timeout.
Are you a bowler? Did you ever bowl on a league?
Pamela S. Meyers loves to set stories set in historical-rich Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, her hometown. Safe Refuge and Shelter Bay, books 1 & 2, of her historical series are available now and Tranquility Point, Book 3 is due to release in April. She is currently working on Rose Harbor, the fourth and final book of the series. She lives in Northern Illinois with her two rescue cats, a short distance from Lake Geneva where she can often be found nosing around for new story ideas.