Marston could set pins on eight lanes! There is no other pin-setter that could handle eight lanes.
He would jump back forth between the lanes like a swinging monkey on crack! Four lanes were
enough that I was gasping for air and getting only smoke. Marston would do all of this while he
was smoking! Between the deodorizer spray they used on the shoes, the oil on the lanes, the
aroma of spilt beer and the fact that every bowler smoked, nausea became a part of my life.
Maybe the fresh air of cutting grass wouldn't have been a bad thing after all.
On the last night of league bowling, we were going to get all of those early bowling, swearing
drunks back with a final last, great act of defiance we were going to streak the place! Three of
us Pin Boys had made a pact to do it together. As we were stripping down, I chickened out.
Then another of us did the same. The last Pin Boy cursed us for our cowardice and went on
about blood oaths and hallowed pacts and such. Then he said, "I don't care, it's my last night, I'm
going for it!" So this brave soul, who shall remain nameless (R.R.) turned his T-Shirt inside out,
wrapped it around his head, gathered all of his clothing, shoes and all, balled it into a football and
screamed, "Here I Go!" He took off like...a streaker! Right across the center of twenty some
lanes, leaving his footprints in the oil on the lanes while wildly flailing his appendages trying to
maintain balance on the oily floorboards. The Industrial League Bowlers snickered in quiet,
embarrassed laughter at the sight of a naked 14 year old boy in their sightlines while pointing
at his bare junk. As he hit the eighth or ninth lane a shoe dropped and after continuing his
rampage for a couple more lanes, he decided to fetch it. The snickering turned into an audible
gasp as he turned back, bent over, picked up his shoe and then re-commenced his nude
debauchery to the front door. It was spectacular!
I wouldn't be surprised if this was the impetus for bowling alleys turning to automatic pinsetters.
Set 'Em Up! Knock Him Down
Bowling wasn't what it is now. Computers automatically calculating scores, rock concerts
in the dark & fancy cocktails served by leggy blondes. Nor did they have machines that
automatically clear the downed pins, return the ball and reset the pins up. No bowling used
to be...um...manual. It is still a great way for a couple to get out, get some exercise, meet
friends and have a great time. However, in the old days it was dangerous for me. See, I
was a pinsetter or a pinboy. After quitting my paper route, I took a job at Dormont
Recreation Lanes on West Liberty doing what a lot of twelve-year old boys were doing,
setting pins for bowling leagues.
Forget that Child Labor Laws were passed in 1938 to prevent children from working in
dangerous environments. Forget that there were easier ways to make money for that new
bike by shoveling snow or mowing lawns in the great outdoors. I could sit in a smoky,
dark pit and dodge flying bowling pins while being laughed at and targeted by drunken
adults! What better way to prepare yourself for what was to come later in life.
Pin Monkeys, er...Pin Boys were privy to all of the bad habits and bad language that adults
were known for and tried to hide from their children, as we were invisible to them unless we
were slow setting their pins. Then we would really hear the choice words! From the dark
confines we could watch them carouse, flirt and generally make an ass of themselves while
the alcohol got thicker and thicker. Though any untrained monkey could do this job, I learned
more there than I would have in five years of fifth grade. Watching the interplay between the
sexes, learning how the F-word could be used as a verb, noun & adverb, and that anger was a
suitable reaction to any occasion. There is no way I would learn all of this mowing some
jamoke's lawn! All this for 10 cents a line.
A line was one bowler's game. So if there were six bowlers I would earn 60 cents. League
nights were big money. The more lanes you handled the more you would earn. So if I did
four lanes with say twenty bowlers playing three games each (4 x 20=80 x 3=$2.40). There
were two leagues a night, so I could earn $4.80. Doesn't sound like much but, when you only
had to spend money on penny candy, it was a fortune! Damn Swedish Fish were my favorites
and they were three cents each! I was buying all of my buddies penny candy at the store on
Illinois Avenue. I was very popular, for all of the wrong reasons.
Four lanes of pin-setting was exhausting work. If your bowlers averaged 150 you were setting
18,000 pins! Proof: (150 Average x 3 Games=450 x 20 Bowlers x 2/Night). I always prayed
they were bowling duck pins as the ten pins were twice as heavy. For those who don't know
what duck pins are they are the same as tenpin bowling...only smaller. The balls weigh anywhere
from 2-4 lbs. and are a little bigger than a typical softball. The pins are also smaller, about 2/3 the
size of a regular tenpin. Duckpins can be found mostly on the East Coast of the U.S., and in
Argentina and the Philippines. That explanation is for anyone living west of Ohio. They don't
have a clue what duck pins are.
Then there was Marston. Marston, I
was told, was a mentally challenged
pin setting savant. Marston was
older, maybe 18 or 19. In all the
time I worked with him (2 years),
I never heard him say a word. Hmm,
maybe he was just mute? But
Marston could set pins like the devil.
The bowler would bowl and if you
were lucky some errant pin didn't
come up and hit you in the head or
worse yet, your shin. Then you
would jump down into the "Pit" clear
the dead wood on the lane and roll
the ball back. On the second roll you
would jump down gather the pins as
fast as you could, step on the "Pin
Bar" which would raise the ten metal
spikes that would align the pins, set
the pins on the spikes and roll the ball
back. Easy enough, right? Well it
took me two months to realize that
you never rolled the ball back first
before setting the pins. Teenagers
would try to destroy you as soon
as the lift gate went up. I don't
know how many pins I got clobbered
with before a wayward pin