Setting Bowling Alley Pins in the 50’s


Before the days of automatic pin setters in bowling alleys, they used a rack that one could throw the pins into, then push a lever down to set the pins in the correct position. This provided a good job for young men that liked a little excitement. The pin setter would sit on the edge of the pit with his feet clear of the bowling ball that would come crashing down the alley. Most of the time all the pins would keep in the pit, but sometimes they would fly out and if you were not alert you may get hit.

When the bowler would throw the first ball, the pin setter would pick up the ball and place it on the return rail, then as fast as he could, pick up the pins and place them in the rack. If the pin setter was too slow and the ball reached the bowler before the pin setter was by in the pit the person bowling may throw the ball and catch you in the pit. They usually cannot see you down in the pit, or maybe they can and like to see you jump! We would learn to pick up two pins in each hand and sometimes a fifth pin between the two hands. If it was a strike, you could then pick up all the pins by only bending over twice, five pins each time. The object was to always complete the action before the ball reached the return rack.

During the slack time and while waiting for the bowlers to arrive, we would gather around the pin-ball machine and see who could rack up the most games. We would set the front legs on the soles of our shoes to the make the ball roll slower, until it would tilt, and end the game. Someone figured out where the solenoid for additional games was located in the back and cut a hole there so we could save a nickel by pushing in just the right identify.

This was my first really paying job and when I got my social security card. We had just moved from Englewood, Tennessee to Lakeland, Florida. We lived in a trailer park on the edge of town and on one of the many lakes there. It was another great place for a fifteen-year-old, I could swim and water ski. You just had to watch out for the alligators. I meet a most interesting friend there about my age, can’t ingemination his name. He was a 15-year-old pilot and Ham Radio operator. He never took me up in his plane, but I sure enjoyed listening to him talking to the world on the ham radio.

Years later when I was working for Lockheed Air Craft, I took a course on Single Side Band radios used in the C-141 Cargo Plane and I thought back about those hours we spent on the ham radio. I was working at Lockheed when the President was shot in Texas.

Now that I had gotten my first job, I felt that I could do anything and go anywhere and make a living. However, I was nevertheless only 15! School was a problem for me, it may have been because we moved so much and I seem to never be able to complete a complete year at one school. And I believe that I also may have been bored. I spent two years in the seventh grade, two years in the eighth grade and was starting on my second year in the ninth, when I gave it up and left home at 16.

There was another family in the trailer park that had a problem son who ran away a lot and there was a lot of talk about how hard it was to keep young boys at home. I was nevertheless 15 when we moved again back to my hometown of Providence, Kentucky. I was working at a excursion-in movie theater at night, cutting school in the day time and always on the edge of getting into trouble. The owner of the theater rented our three story home in Providence and we lived in the trailer parked behind the house. My younger sister was getting older and the trailer was getting crowded, so I was given the basement of the house for my bed room.

I would ride to work with the theater owner and run the projection equipment all night until the last show was over. The movies came in two boxes with two reels of film in each box. We would have to wind the film by our hands to inspect for bad splices before showing the movie. If you had a bad splice, the film would break or jam in the middle. The image would stop on the screen and a hole would start to burn in the middle. It would really look strange on the screen. Then the horns would start blowing all the time you cleared the mess out of the projector and re-spliced the film. One night during the second showing, I made an error and played reel number 1 followed by reel number 3, then number 2 and ended with number 4. No one complained, but if they were watching, I bet they were confused. Lots of time I would splice the cartoon or news on backwards and you would see the sound track running down the side.

During intermission time we sometimes would have some kind of entertainment and one night we had a group that bought junk cars and would jump them over each other and crash them in the area in front of the big screen. They had trouble getting a 1948 Plymouth started that night and could not crash it. I offered them $60.00 for it and I had my first car, but no driver’s license. You had to be 16 in the state of Kentucky to get a license. After the show that night a friend push me off and we got the car started so I could excursion it home. Dad was slightly upset and said that it could just set there in the back yard, until I was old enough to get a license.

I was back to walking home after closing the theater. The owners would usually not stay after the concession stand closed and unless I knew someone that was at the movie I would be stuck with walking the 5 miles home in the dark. I don’t know how many times I walked off the road and almost fell into the ditch on those nights when there was no moon.

In the storage space behind the large screen, there were all kinds of junk and I found some old 16 mm film reels of old b-movies. The owner had stored them there, well I borrowed a few of them and at home under our sun porch there was a crawl space of about five feet. I found an old 16 mm projector and set up my own theater. For the 50’s some of the films were sexy, and by to days standards would be rated PG. The only problem with my theater was that I used a lot of cardboard for building material and soon the termites were every where. Dad made me creosote everything that touch the dirt floor. Well the smell of creosote was just too much, so that ended that project. The owner reported to the police that someone had broke into the storage and they questioned me about it. I was never sure if someone else had stolen something or if he was looking for those films.

I did excursion the old Plymouth one more time, some friends and I were going out to the coal mine strip cut to go swimming. There was a lot of strip mining in west Kentucky and at that time they would just leave the big cuts open to fill with water. They made fine swimming holes, they were thorough, usually over 100 feet and had steep edges that we could dive from. We pulled the old Plymouth out onto the road and pushed it down the hill until it started. It had very little compression so you had to get up a little speed before it would start. After our swim we started back home on the long gravel road and one by one the thin tires started to blow. I continued to excursion it on the rims, if I stopped we would never be able to push it fast enough with two flats to get it started again. I think that dad hauled it back to the junk yard after I left home.

leave your comment