"Child Labor Laws? We don' need no steenking Child Labor Laws."

Caney had a bowling alley unlike any bowling alley ever seen before or since.  It was in a storefront building on Fourth Street, our “Main Street” just east of Winkler’s Drug store.  It did a boomingly noisy business until television came along.  It also was a business where the owner didn’t ask many questions before hiring a kid to set pins.   Pin setting was a high turnover job.  I was hired as soon as I asked for a job.  I was somewhere around 13 years old. It was evening work, starting around 7:00 p.m. and ending around 10:00 p.m. six nights a week. Unlike modern bowling alleys Caney's alley used only 9 pins that were set in a straight row perpendicular to the alley.

Setting pins in pre-mechanical days was not a job for the faint-hearted.  Balls that were knocked down were picked up and re-set individually by hand and it had to be done quickly.   Bowlers in Caney’s bowling alley threw grapefruit sized, hard rubber balls down alleys that were about 20-yards long.  These balls did not have finger holes.  They were thrown underhanded like a softball but they were supposed to make contact with and stay on the hardwood surface of the alley no more than a foot past the bowler’s feet.   When one of Caney's llocal gorillas fired one of those cannonballs down those short alleys pins flew like feathers in a fox raided hen house.

There were five side by side alleys.  When they were all in use a pin boy might make it through the night without being hit by a flying pin but he never left with his hearing intact.  Imagine the sound of a dump truck continually dropping a load of firewood onto a hardwood floor and you’ll have some idea of the noise level back where the pin setters roosted while waiting to re-set the fallen pins.

The pin setter sat on a little shelf, more like a perch, about twelve inches wide and three feet above the floor.  If he was prudent he did not dangle his legs into the pit where the bowling ball and pins crashed.  He kept his legs tucked up under his chin.  The instant the bowler’s last ball slammed into the backstop the pin boy’s job was to jump off his perch and set the pins back in place and put the ball into the return rail as fast as possible.  While doing that he had to keep an eye out for balls plowing into the adjacent pits.  It wasn’t unusual for a pin to fly end over end from one alley into the adjacent alley.  After surviving a few nights of that I decided there were things I wouldn't do for money.

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Tom Cormier (website) on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 12:13

Something else to learn. 9 pin bowling! Who knew?

Something else to learn. 9 pin bowling! Who knew?