At the age of 7, well before the age of being able to handle a big bowling ball, I cut my head falling against a door in a place called a “bowling alley” in Fort Worth, Texas. I was playing with my friends. The cut was severe enough to require stitches. At this point in my 7 year old life, I didn’t like bowling very much. Mom and Dad brought me there once or twice a week, but it was pretty boring, I was too big to be in the day care facility maintained by the bowling center. When not forced to sit in the bowling pit, I was left to find amusement on my own, well before the age of any modern electronics that would set a 7 year old free.
In 1959, my family moved to the home of Bell Helicopter in Hurst, Texas, only a few blocks from a new bowling alley named Hurst Bowl. In an age before video games, an Internet, or color televisions, I developed a fascination for the sport of bowling and the social fun of being with all my like minded friends. There were pinball and shuffle board games, and a favorite shuffleboard / pinball kind of "bowling” game with pins that popped up with every puck thrown. But my favorite was real bowling. For me, nothing could compare to the physical effort and adrenaline rush of trying to knock all ten pins down with two rolls of big heavy balls.
I went to work at Hurst Bowl at 14 I think. I was a lane porter for a while, emptying aluminum ashtrays full of butts, clearing bottle and can empties. It didn't take long until I became a “pin chaser”, a junior mechanic behind the automatic pinsetters, those electric powered robots that had changed the face of bowling and the speed of playing the game of American Ten Pins. These machines were the revolutionary Brunswick ”A’s” and I was responsible for cleaning the ball return wheels, changing filters and responding to breakdowns.
To prepare the wooden bowling lanes for the day, I was instructed to first drag the large wick for the entire 60 feet from foul line to pin deck and back to clean the lanes. Then spray the oil on each lane with a big “bug can”, then perform a final drag of the 4 foot wide wick to spread the oil. As a perk, I got to bowl for 10 cents a game and it wasn’t long before I developed an obsessive fascination for it. Sometimes late at night, I would keep scores for the pot bowlers that would earn me a small tip. If I wasn’t keeping score, I was bowling.
I got a fitted with an AMF “Dick Weber 5 Star” ball drilled by the house pro and received many weeks of lessons from a woman professional whose name I lost long ago. Looking back on it now, the lessons were superb, she taught me bowling fundamentals that I’ve used to this day. She taught me how to adjust my spot on each lane, a premium skill in those days before synthetic lanes and lane machines. I joined an American Junior Bowling Congress league that bowled at 10AM on Saturday mornings at Hurst Bowl. Every Saturday morning was a full house there. Saturday afternoons were spent in front of the television watching the Professional Bowlers Tour. As I matured as a bowler, I so admired the long swings of Dave Davis and Gary Dickinson, the great follow through of Larry Laub and Jim Stefanich, the power of Mark Roth and his duels with graceful Marshall Holman, or the cool handed Earl Anthony. I lusted for an orange Ebonite ball.
Time and age have blurred some of those early days, but I remember bowling in a travel league in Fort Worth, in the ABC Tournament in Oklahoma City, and in the Texas state AJBC tournament in Corpus Christi. I also bowled in the Pro-Am for the 1976 BPAA U.S.Open at Forum Bowl in Grand Prairie, Texas and took home a commemorative Columbia White Dot ball. In 1980, I lived in Amarillo and bowled in a league at Western Bowl, but in 1982 took a job in Dallas that required extensive travel and my bowling came to an abrupt end. I went to a center every great while for fun, but my skills had dulled and I found it frustrating because I knew I was a better bowler than that.
My travel days ended in 2001, and one day while rummaging around in my garage, I encountered my bag and shoes, and the White Dot was in fine shape. I threw it in the car and took off for Don Carter West. That day, I rediscovered one of my first loves, knocking down pins with a big heavy ball, but now the ball wasn’t so heavy and the lanes seemed to steer the ball into the pocket! I was back!
It wasn’t long before I had a new resin ball and some new shoes, and after reading up a little, I decided that USBC Sport Bowling was for me. I figured it gave me a little of what we bowled on in the 70’s, a little more challenge than common league lane conditions. After all, I wasn’t there for my ego of carrying a big average; I was there for the challenge of the sport. I think I carried a 167 average that first season, but wasn’t pleased with my ability to score, so I sought out a new coach and found USBC Gold coach Susie Minshew. She was fine with my fundamentals, convinced me to ditch the wrist master thingy I wore to keep my wrist straight, to have my ball redrilled for a better fit, and to move my hand more under the ball for a better roll. She helped me understand the concept of “axis tilt”. Her lessons changed my game so that with a bit of practice, I was competitive again in this new era of bowling.
Here we are eleven years later in 2012. My love and my obsessive fascination for the game of American Ten Pins has reappeared and I have reinvented my self more than once in the past decade.
I discovered a passion for 19th century America and developed an expertise for antique prints and rare maps at Beaux Arts. Examining an old map can take you on a journey of discovery if you will let it. My curiosity was piqued about the origin of the ten pin game I played and I started investigating. After finding all the history that I could, I thought the game of American Ten Pins deserved a different look at its heritage. I’ve only scratched the surface with this article, I think there is much more to discover in the halls of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.
After 52 years in business, Hurst Bowl was closed a few weeks ago, another victim of this sad social era referred to in "Bowling Alone".
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Copyright © 2012, Max Gross and American Ten Pins, Dallas, TX, 75205
All Rights Reserved
© 2012, American Ten Pins, Dallas, Texas. All Rights Reserved.