Sunday, January 30, 2000

Pinsetting for dollars

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Housed in the basement of McMurdo’s Building 63 are two bowling lanes, one of a few remaining manually-set alleys in the world. The exact number is difficult to know, because they are so small and so rare.

The lanes were the site of last week’s bowling tournament final match, won by the Freshies, with the help of the people behind the pins.

Several McMurdo residents are pinsetters in their spare time, earning minimum wage and tips from bowlers.

It’s a rough job, involving constant bending and lifting in a confined space, moving speedily so as not to delay the bowlers, and also avoiding the 10- to 16-pound balls which hurtle down the lanes.

There aren’t all that many pinsetters today. In earlier days of bowling, fallen pins were collected by hand and re-set in place individually, often by young people, called “pin boys.”

At the end of World War II, there was a shortage of willing pin boys. Technology offered another solution, automated pinsetters. These were often cheaper to run, since one or two people could service numerous lanes at once.

“It’s very rare to find people who manually set the pins anymore,” Jim Dressel, editor of Bowler’s Journal International, said in a phone interview.

The machines themselves are also of interest.

“They’re antiques and they’re very valuable,” said spokeswoman Jackie Twa of Brunswick, the corporation which made the pinsetting trays used at McMurdo’s lanes.

Despite the lack of replacement parts, “you could sell them for a lot of money and buy a new center,” Twa said.

Dressel was surprised to learn of the existence of McMurdo’s artifact.

He recalled that in the 1940s and 1950s there were a number of bowling alleys installed in military bases around the world.

But the automated setters used by most bowling centers nowadays were first introduced in 1945 by AML, Dressel said. Brunswick started making them in 1950, he said.

The manual pinsetters in Building 63 carry the following information on the manufacturer’s label: “Style B-10,Brunswick-Balke-Collender.” The machines are serial numbers 1023 and 1028.

The company changed its name from Brunswick-Balke-Collender to Brunswick Corporation on April 18, 1960, according to Linda Haschke, a marketing representative for Brunswick.