During the 1930s, 40s and ’50s, Americans set themselves up in a bowling craze, and Amos’s were knocking pins with the best of them.
“Bowling was really big back then,” says Duane. “During the Depression and World War II times—there was no money and there was gas rationing. You couldn’t get out and do anything else.”
Apparently the Amos Boys’ father, Roland, was a pretty good bowler. When he worked for REO, he bowled in their leagues and bowled a 300 game.
Their mother, Gladys, was a good bowler as well.
“I remember one time out to Spartan bowling alley, there was a tournament and Dad put Mom’s name in,” says Duane. “It was just a local tournament but the first prize was $100. Anyway, Mom won it. I don’t suppose she gave Dad any of that money.”
“That was a couple weeks’ wages back then,” says Jerry.
“Funny thing, at the time, Dad worked at that bowling alley,” says Duane. “And back then, things weren’t automated like they are now. Someone had to sit in a booth to watch for people stepping over the foul line. I was about 14 and Dad had me sitting in the booth. Probably if people knew I was up there, they wouldn’t have approved.”
“Conflict of interest,” laughs Jerry.
If you recall, it’s likely Roland met his second wife, Harriet, at a bowling alley. And if you’re old enough to have visited their home on Holmes St., you certainly remember the great display of bowling trophies on the dresser in the back bedroom.
“Harriet was probably one of the top women bowlers in Lansing,” says Bruce. “But after she and Dad were married, they didn’t bowl as much.”
The Amos Boys have bowling memories as well.
In high school Duane, Bruce and their cousin LaVern were on a team together in a school-sponsored league.
“I got involved in bowling for several years,” says Bruce. “I was on that same high school team. And after high school I bowled in league bowling for several years. Jeanie was a good bowler too.”
“I remember being like 5-6 years old and going to an alley sometimes. I’d be staying with Mom for a bit, and we’d go for her league days,” says Jerry. “There were all these smells and the sounds, everybody yelling and screaming. Once I ran up to the return to grab a ball. Everyone started hollering at me because another ball was coming up the ramp, but I didn’t know and I got my hand pinched between two balls.”
But interestingly, the Amos’s didn’t just knock down the pins, they set them up as well. Manually. In fact, you could say they were part of what today is a lost art.
They were pinboys. (Here’s an interesting article and photo on that.)
“When we were younger, like 13-14, our Dad worked at the Spartan bowl,” says Bruce. “We were substitutes because at that alley grown men set the pins.”
Later, he and Duane worked at the Strand Bowling Alley.
“I was between jobs,” says Duane, of a time when he was about 15-16. “After a couple days of sitting around the house, Ma told me to go out and get a job. She didn’t care what it was, I just had to get a job. So I set pins at the Strand.”
The Amos Boys describe pinsetting as a typical job for kids who hadn’t found anything else. It was low-paying, part-time and flying pins often made it dangerous.
“There was a cut-out between the alleys and you sat in there. When you got a little better you could set two lanes at once,” says Duane.
I wonder if this manuel setup of pins slowed the game?
“No, it wasn’t much slower,” says Bruce. “It takes the automated setup just as long to run its cycle as it did for us to pick them up. Even when you did two lanes. That’s where the courtesy of bowling comes from—you don’t bowl two lanes at the same time because of that.”
“Pinsetters got pretty fast,” says Jerry. “Some of them could pick up 3-4 pins at a time. I tried it for one evening in North Lansing and that was enough for me. Plus the guy wouldn’t pay me.”
Bummer. But if you did get paid, how much was it?
“You got paid like piece work. You got paid for each game you set,” says Bruce.
“You liked it when you got good bowlers because they’d get more strikes and the game would go quicker,” says Duane.
So there you have it—stories of the Amos Alley Cats. Next time we get together for a reunion we’ll have to roll a few balls for history’s sake, yes?
Who wants to set the pins?!