Sunday, October 08, 2000

Pin setters keep bowling games going

Manual system is a tradition for patrons of Augusta bar

        AUGUSTA, Ky. — For the ultimate in retro cool, check out Augusta's bowling alley.

        There are two lanes. The surfaces are scuffed. The wooden dividers are splintered. And in a dark cubbyhole at the end, two teen-age boys scramble to keep the game going.

        That's right: Augusta's only bowling outlet has never automated. For $5 an hour plus tips, kids are still dodging flying pins, resetting them with a manual hopper and returning balls by gravity-powered chute.

        Last week, the setters were Dustin Teegarden, 15, and Matthew Sandlin, 13.

        Between throws, they sat on a plain wooden plank behind the pins, taking care to pick up their feet. Once each frame was over, they quickly tossed the pins into holes in a metal contraption, then flipped a switch to lower it onto the lane.

        The job has its risks. Last year, Dustin was struck in the leg by a bowling ball.

[photo] Dustin Teegarden, 15, a pin setter at Someplace Else, an Augusta bar that has two bowling lanes, has to reach to make sure the pins are in their proper place.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        “I laid right here,” he says, pointing to the space behind the pins. “They put me on the pool table and iced it down.” After a few minutes, he went back to work, but he had to miss two weeks of basketball because of the swelling.

        Half the residents of Augusta, it seems, started life as pin setters.

        “There's been quite a few kids back there,” says Elizabeth Copens, 83, who nursed a beer as she watched the action last week.

        “I set pins down here,” says Mary Jett, another bowler.

        “I think Dorothy used to set pins at one time,” Ms. Copens says.

        Dorothy Napier is Ms. Copens' daughter. During league play, she keeps everyone's scores on a piece of paper. And sure enough, she has done her share of pin setting.

        “I even set pins and bowled at the same time,” Ms. Napier says.

        It's tough to say how many manual systems such as this are still in use around the country. There's one in a Chicago bar, for instance, but it's more of a nostalgia item than a functioning piece of equipment, says Andy Shipman, marketing director for Brunswick Indoor Recreation Group. Brunswick makes bowling equipment.

        Augusta's lanes were installed in 1951, and Brunswick stopped making the parts in 1963. The bowling alley/bar, called Someplace Else, has gone through several owners since then. About a year ago, a Brunswick technician stopped in for a consultation and was amazed.

        “He wanted the pin setter bad,” says Bob Snapp, a co-owner of the bar. “They're antique, I reckon.”

[photo] A bowler rolls the ball down the lane toward the pins, which will be reset manually by a pin setter using holes in a metal device.
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        Augusta's bowlers know it. They're proud of their lanes, which were once featured on Good Morning America, but they are also slightly exasperated.

        “Nowadays it's tough to find kids to set pins,” says Sharon Sayers, whose father was the bowling alley's first owner.

        “So far, the boys we have back there, they're real good,” Ms. Napier says. “They ain't fussin'.”

        Dustin plays basketball for Augusta High School and uses his earnings to go out for dinner with the team. His parents used to give him $5, but he likes this better. “It's my own money,” he says. “I don't have to bum it off them.”

        Likewise, Matthew sets pins and strips tobacco in the winter because his family believes in hard work.

        On bowling nights, the boys labor in a dim space scarred with the evidence of years: Graffiti, wispy cobwebs, the scribbled names of pin setters past.

        Theirs is a worthy tradition. With any luck, it will continue.

       Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or

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