Set 'Em Up

The clatter of strikes and spares echoes across the land, for bowling is rolling right down the alley as a top-ranking indoor sport

BILL TRENT FRAYNE February 1 1943

Set 'Em Up

The clatter of strikes and spares echoes across the land, for bowling is rolling right down the alley as a top-ranking indoor sport

BILL TRENT FRAYNE February 1 1943

Set 'Em Up


The clatter of strikes and spares echoes across the land, for bowling is rolling right down the alley as a top-ranking indoor sport


I TRUDGED around Toronto in the rain. In department stores, while wild-eyed women battled grimly for the dwindling supplies of merchandise, I was battered about like a tackling dummy and if my bones weren’t broken, at least my dignity was shattered forevermore. I got out of there. I sought refuge in a bowling alley. Did I say refuge? Cousin, there were so many women there that I thought for an embarrassing moment I was in the lingerie department.

But it was a bowling alley, all right, a low-roofed, noisy, sprawling room filled with the laughter of women, the occasional grunts of men, and the low hum of mineralite balls spinning down ninety feet of slick, polished alley until they plopped with an odd bop-bop-bop sound into the pits behind. Across sixteen alleys it was the same picture.

In fact it’s the same picture across the nine provinces of our fair Dominion every evening and most of the day, for five-pin bowling is a big business and a major sport. Tens of thousands of Canadian men and women are doing it, not counting kibitzers, and the number is restricted only by the number of alleys. It’s doubtful if any sport can claim so many devotees and it’s a cinch that bowling heads the list of indoor recreations. It is popular with the servicemen and women — they slap those pins down with almost as much relish as they would knock Hitler loose from his teeth—and just about every type of voter in the country seems drawn these days by the tumult and the shouting of the bowling alley.

I watched men and women stooping to pick up bowling balls which looked like cantaloupes, bending for an instant three strides from the foul line at the head of the alley, skidding on one foot as they brought forward their arm like a pendulum to release the ball, and standing there, often on one foot with the other cocked at an odd angle, until the ball dipped into the pins. Then they screamed exultantly as if they’d struck oil or, on the other hand, they became as downcast as if they had been omitted from the rich uncle’s will.

Halfway down the alleys and facing the bowlers sat a sour-faced little guy whose only interest in life was to ring a bell every time a bowler’s foot crossed the foul line when he released the ball, putting the kiss of death on the bowler whose shot was disallowed.

On seats which tier up for six rows near the alleys were a handful of idlers who might have been waiting for a vacant alley or perhaps had no place to go and this was better than the rain. It’s an odd fact that while there are rows of seats in nearly all alleys they are seldom more than half filled. People seldom sit down and watch because bowling is not a spectator sport. If you’re not a bowler you don’t know much about bowling.

This bowling alley, like all the others, had the inevitable refreshment booth with tired-looking girls brushing imaginary crumbs frcm the counters

and asking the customer what he wants. Mostly what the customer wants is pop because everybody in bowling alleys drinks pop, smokes cigarettes and beefs about a certain frame when he swears the pin-boy set the pins up crooked because that ball was “dead in the pocket” and how the heck could he miss a strike if the pins were up right. This is bowling’s counterpart of golf’s nineteenth hole.

I noticed that three quarters of the people in the place were women but this was not odd because mother always said I was looking at women three

quarters of my time anyway. But this bunch of women was a very excitable bunch, yammering at that little ball after they’d tossed it as if the darn thing could hear them and follow their shouted instructions.

It came back to me then what Charlie Gibson, white-haired, cigar-smoking daddy of bowling in the West, had said about women in bowling. Charlie himself had been a ten-pin enthusiast, crack bowler just before the last war, and watching Continued on page 33

Set 'Em Up

Continued from page 13

the small pin sport sweep Toronto alleys he said he had laughed and told himself it would never last.

“But when women began to take it up, that probably guaranteed its permanence,” Gibson once said. “It was a sizable chore convincing the women of the West that pin establishments were not the popular meeting places of the city’s black sheep, but it was managed. First there was a fire insurance mixed league in the early 1920’s. Then the five-pin game gradually caught hold. Today in Canada it has practically ridden ten pins into the background and women play a major part in the game.”

For the benefit of those who just came in, the basic difference between five pins and ten pins is the size of the balls. A ten-pin ball weighs sixteen pounds and a five-pin ball between three and four. The possible score in a game of ten pins is 300 and 190 is a fair average. It’s possible to shoot 450 in five pins and averages of 250 are not uncommon. If you’re interested in the method of scoring, take a week off and spend it at the alleys. It’s too intricate to explain here.

Well, I thought I’d like a string or two (in the parlance of bowling, a “string” or a “line” is a game; thus, two strings or two lines, usually costing a quarter, means two games) so I advanced upon one of the attendants and said I’d like a string or two please.

He looked at me as if I’d asked for a pound of butter, threw back his bald head and laughed.

This was no way to treat a cash customer, I reasoned, and was about to leave the joint in high indignation when Baldy hooked me by the lapel and said :

“Look, buddy, I think maybe you’re kiddin’, but if you ain’t, allow me to tell you that people don’t just walk into bowlin’ alleys these days and get in a game. These days, people either belong to leagues or they don’t bowl at all, see? Or very rarely.”

I said no I didn’t know that.

He said: “Across the country,

people is bowlin’ nuts. All war plants, all the guys and dames in uniform is bowlin’, see? More people wants to bowl than we got alleys and so it’s just about all we can handle when we handle the leagues they’ve organized. Nobody never just drops in and sez he feels like bowlin’ a string, see?”

I said, “Why?”

He said: “Why? How should I know why? I oney work here. They just bowl, that’s all. Why dontcha ast Dick Mansell or somebody who knows sumpin’ about it if you wanna know why?”

So I went back into the rain and looked up Dick Mansell. He is Regimental Sergeant Major Mansell

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now. What he says can be taken for gospel because in addition to winning the Toronto singles championship in 1929 and 1935 he is a past president of the Canadian Bowling Association.

Luck Helps the Score

LUCK has a tremendous bearing on five - pin scores,” Dick says. “Manufacturers have made so many improvements in the pins in the last ten years that almost anyone is liable to shoot over 200 simply by throwing the ball down the alley. That, I think, explains why so many women bowl in this country. Women, and lots of men too, proficient in no other sport can make a creditable showing in five pins.”

As further illustration of his point, R.S.M. Mansell points out that he won the Toronto championship in 1929 with an average of 235. He won it in 1935 with a 256 average. He refuses to consider that proficiency alone accounts for the spread of 21 points per game in a season.

“It was the equipment,” he says vehemently. “The manufacturers put more resiliency, or more life, into the pins just as golf ball and baseball manufacturers livened up their products. The result was better scores in bowling, longer drives in golf, and more home runs in baseball.”

Bowling’s most attractive asset is that anyone can play a reasonably good game—and come away feeling he’ll improve next time out. No practice is needed to shoot good scores but hours of practice are required to roll consistently good scores.

This, together with the friendly atmosphere and camaraderie of the game, probably explains why it is popular with Canada’s war workers and the men and women of the armed forces.

Friendly, thorough, R. J. (Bob) Woods, for ten years secretary of the C.B.A., says that nearly 10,000 war workers bowl in Toronto alone, that 1,500 teams operate out of the city’s numerous munitions plants. Many use six-man instead of the customary five-man teams.

It’s that way across the country. The great steel mills of Hamilton employ thousands of workers who make five-pin bowling their principal diversion. At Winnipeg, hundreds more participate. The same is true of Vancouver’s great shipbuilding and aircraft industries.

Servicemen find relaxation and exercise on the alleys, and the sport has the full support of military leaders. Says soldier Mansell: “It’s a good sport from a service angle because all group stuff promotes an esprit de corps. Most officers around here bowl in our leagues.”

Camp Borden has the largest emporium of any service centre with twelve regulation alleys. Civilian operators in all cities do a land-office business and most have arranged special price lists for servicemen.

There are seventy-six bowling alleys splashed across western Canada’s numerous Air Force centres and these do not include the alleys avail-

able in larger cities like Winnipeg, with its 182 alleys, Vancouver with 145, Calgary with fifty-six, Regina with forty, Edmonton with thirtytwo, Saskatoon with thirty-two and Victoria with twenty-five.

Charlie Gibson is responsible largely for the growth of the game in the West. In 1906 he had five howling alleys and six billiard tables in Winnipeg. Today he owns and operates 147 alleys and forty-five tables in nine recreation centres from the head of the lakes to the. Pacific Coast.

Ten pins was the game when Charlie broke into the business in 1906 and he regarded five pins with scepticism at first, thinking it purely a fad. Then he changed his mind and took it west. Today, seventyfive per cent of his clientele bowl five pins.

How did five-pin howling originate?

Canadian Invention

rpHOMAS (TOMMY) RYAN has Jbeen established as the game’s inventor 33 years ago in Toronto. Today he is vigorous, white-haired, tall and erect. He operates an antique shop in a great, rambling house in Toronto and he can tell how he came to invent five pins with the same eagerness with which he identifies the vintage of the tables and busts and portraits that line his large domicile.

“Five pins was played for the first time in November of 1909 right here in Toronto,” Mr. Ryan recalls. “It was much earlier than that, though, that my brother Jim and I experimented with variations of the game.”

As early as 1905 he made a special trip to Chicago to buy equipment and regulation alleys. Ten pins was played exclusively then, but only by “big, husky muscle-men in an undesirable environment,” as Tommy puts it.

“It was my idea that bowling could be a good clean sport and I determined to operate alleys to fit that description. I did, too, after my return from Chicago and I had an excellent clientele. But they frequently complained that the game was too strenuous. They didn’t like lifting that 16-pound ball and in summer heat they simply refused to bowl.”

Ryan made several innovations, finally conceived the idea of having the pins turned down in size. The

result was a pin that satisfied the keglers for a time. But so slim were the new pins, the ball frequently passed between them.

Hurtling pins proved another deficiency that threatened windows and fixtures and also endangered passersby below. Sincethe pins were entirely wooden it wasn’t uncommon for them to fly ten or twenty feet through the air, crash through windows with embarrassing regularity and thunder down onto the street.

Brother Jim conceived the idea of encircling the body of the pin with a heavy rubber band—feature of the five pin even today. That solved the problem.

Five pins grew into major sport stature with formation of the Canadian Bowling Association in 1927. The C.B.A. actually is a misnomer for only in Ontario are leagues affiliated with it. The rest of the nation ’s trundlers pay their allegiance —and dough—to provincial or local organizations.

Secretary Woods explains it thus: “Bowling has never had an ‘angel.’ Directors of the game are businessmen with whom the game is a hobby. As an example, curling became a nationally organized game only when a tobacco company originated the Macdonald’s Brier—the Dominion curling championships. Our directors manage to get out into rural Ontario and keep interest aroused and pick up suggestions, hut we’ve never had anyone who could bring the West’s ideas to us or ours to the West.”

He appends the thought that with so many of Canada’s fighting men and women scattered across the country it won’t always be this way.

There never has been a Canadian championship tournament in the sense that each province sends its champions to a central, national conclave. There is, of course, the annual Canadian Bowling Association championships, hut this event is confined mostly to Ontario bowlers and sundry souls from the rest of the country who can afford the trek to Toronto.

The play bowling receives across the nation today does not necessarily mean that pin establishments are in clover, reaping a wartime harvest. Anyone who pays income tax, surtax, business tax and the multiple other levies imposed by governments will not put too much stock in profitmaking.