Setting Pins at the Bowling Alley

I thought I would relate to you a part of my life when I was a Pin Sitter at the Bowling Alley.

It all started (as I remember) in the fall of 1945, I was in the third grade of my schooling, for the first time, at Winians grade school. My older brother Jim, would have been fourteen years old and probably in the eight grade at Sherman Junior High School. Jim was working at the Ziglar and Rowland Bowling Alley, located on West First Street, between Washington and Adams Street, on the south side of the street. There was another Bowling Alley to the West of the Ziglar and Roland, called the Palace Bowling Alley. Each Bowling establishment had just eight bowling lanes.

One evening Jim came home and told Mother that they were needing more Pin Setters at the Bowling Alley and that my brother Clarence should apply for the job. Well, I always thought I could do anything my older brothers could do, so I begged mother to let me go along with Clarence to apply as well. Now, Clarence would have been twelve years old and probably in the sixth grade of school. I am sure my mother thought, sure Phillip you can go along, but they will never hire an eight year old to work setting pins, so I got to go along. After school the next day Clarence and I rode our bicycles from school to the Ziglar and Rowland Bowling Alley. Sure enough they hired both of us.

Now I need to explain why I think they hired me along with my brother Clarence. You see, in the Pin Setting business, normally a fellow would set pins for two alleys at the same time. While the customer was bowling on one alley the pin sitter could be setting up the pins on the other alley, and vice/versa. So they hired Clarence and me as a team, we could handle two lanes same as the bigger boys, only it took two of us to do it. In those days at the time of World War II, there was a shortage of working folks, so the Bowling Alley took what they could get.

At first Clarence and I would go to work right after school and work till 6 pm., that was when the bigger boys came to work to set pins for the leagues. Clarence and I started out setting pins for what was called open bowling from about 4 pm. till 6 pm. Not to long, maybe a couple of months, we were promoted to the 6 pm. till 12 midnight shift, that was where the big bucks were to be made.

Now, the 6 to midnight shift: The Ziglar and Rowland Bowling Alley had eight bowling lanes, so that required four pin-sitters who could set double or three who could, and Clarence and me for two lanes. Bowling Alleys in Hutchinson, Kansas were a busy place in 1940's. There was scheduled two leagues every night Monday threw Friday every week from September till May. Bowling Alleys were not air conditioned in those days, so were closed June, July and August months for re-conditioning.

One league took about two hours to complete, usually a little longer, depending on the quality of bowlers. A league was made up of teams of five bowlers to a team, so in this bowling ally a league was made up of forty bowlers, five bowlers per team times eight lanes. The teams would compete or bowl against each other on a rotational basis. Two teams would occupy two lanes and each of the ten bowlers would bowl three games each. As a pin setter this meant you set pins for fifteen games on each alley for each league, or if you could set double lanes than you got thirty games per league. Having two leagues each night meant you either set thirty games for single lanes or sixty games for double lanes.

This is how you were able to make the big bucks. When I started setting pins in 1945 we were paid five cents for each game/line we set. It took from eight to twelve minutes for most bowlers to bowl one game, depending on how good of a bowler they were. In an evening of two leagues, setting 30 games/lines, I could make a dollar and fifty cents. Now that was big bucks for an eight year old kid in the third grade. We would work every other night. One week we would work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the next week we worked Tuesday and Thursday. Usually there was some weekend pin sitting that you were required to do. That first year Clarence and I worked as a team till the Bowling Alley close in the Spring, around the last of May.

During that first year of Pin Sitting, the Ziglar and Rowland Bowling Alley was sold. Two fellows names Al Webber and Charles (unknown) bought it from Ziglar and Rowland. I do not remember the Charles fellow, because he was not into running the business. It was operated by Al Webber and his wife. They named the Bowling Alley "The Al Char Bowling Alley". The Bowling Alley next door West of the Al Char also was sold to Jack and Flo Hampton.

In the Fall of 1946, Clarence and I split up the Pitzer brother's Pin Setting team. Clarence went to work for his Uncle Ralph on the farm in Rural Nickerson, Kansas. I applied for and got a job at the Palace Bowling Alley now run by Flo and Jack Hampton. I was nine years old and was able to set pins for two lanes, just like the big boys. This meant I could make three dollars an night, such big money in those days.

I set pins for nine years, off and on, from 1945 till 1954, from the third grade till I was in the 10th grade at High School. I changed my profession from pin setter to kitchen employee when I took a job working at the new Hotel convention center, Baker Hotel in downtown Hutchinson. That is another story for another time.