Forced to look beyond our parents for spending money, we looked elsewhere to put dollars in our pockets. With a variety of employment opportunities available, none offered the deep pockets of ready cash that setting up pins did. So in the fall of 1949, soon after my fourteenth birthday, I began that walk, three short blocks away, to the T&O bowling Lanes on the corner of Tenth and Oregon.
For the next four years, from September to April, I worked the pits and fell in love with the game of bowling. It was tiring work and, in the beginning, difficult keeping up with those whose pin setting years numbered more than one. And if your pair of alleys fell far behind, preventing the second shift of bowlers from starting on time, Floyd "Ducky" Driessen, the alley manager, didn't always understand.
Yet, I looked forward to those nights when the eight of us, with our jugs of water and twelve ounce bottles of Pepsi, ambled down to our assigned lanes. It may have been the challenge of keeping up with those older than me and feeling a deep sense of accomplishment of doing a job well that kept me at this all those years. But the opportunity to bowl free on those Saturday mornings in pot games carried me through flying pins and broken bottles, aching backs and sore hands night after night before walking home to an invited bed. And the weariness felt in school the morning after was part of the price we were all forced to pay.
In its second year of operation, the T&O replaced the old manual or push-down machines with semi-automatic pin setters. Arno Abraham, the owner, in his attempt to reduce costs, cut the pay to those working in the pits by two cents a game. The installation of semi-automatic pin setters, he reasoned, allowed pin boys to earn more money "jumping," or setting up two alleys than the single lane worked with the manual machine.
The following September Ducky, speaking for the owner, announced that the pay per line would be further reduced by one cent to seven cents per game. The line had been drawn. It was probably bound to happen given Arno's penchant for budget squeezing and Ducky's inflexible, hard-line approach to things he believed in, and our belief as pin boys that we were being used, exploited in ways familiar to those struggling in the labor movement. I don't remember who took it upon himself or themselves to right this wrong, although Wiener Gruhlke brought up the names of Don Hirte and Carl Bahr, two erstwhile T&O pin setters, I do remember that a meeting was called.
We met in the old high school auditorium on a school day afternoon. An AFL-CIO organizer was to be the featured speaker. He would be there, we were told, to give advice, to tell us how to organize, how to form a labor union to redress our long held grievances. There was a large, but nervous group of high school age boys in the auditorium that day as an effort was being made to organize pin boys throughout the city. Those of us from the T&O were uneasy, "jumpy" might best describe our state of mind. The word was out that Ducky found out about the meeting and was coming to break it up. I didn't want him to see me there, nor did anyone else who worked at the T&O. We knew how he felt about this kind of thing.
We liked Ducky. Many of us looked on him as a father figure and a friend. Feeling that I was caught up in a situation requiring a choice between two unpleasant alternatives, inertia, an old friend, took over.
As the meeting was being called to order, someone stationed as a lookout at one of the windows cried out that Ducky was in the parking lot walking in our direction. Rushing to the window to see for ourselves and quickly spotting this man no one wanted to cross, the auditorium soon emptied of T&O pin boys scampering to find an exit leading away from the building and from Mr. Driessen.
There was no meeting that day, nor to my knowledge, was one planned on some future date. Ducky had accomplished his mission.
The following year, out of the need to make a change, perhaps save some face, I switched my allegiance to the Recreation Lanes where automation had not yet driven a wedge between management and the hired help, and where Bob Putzer, the owner, sang a softer, friendlier, less contentious tune.