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Part One...To Felix Or Not To Felix, That Is The Question

Story ID:10642
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:In Memory
Location:Bly Oregon USA
Person:My Mom
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Part One...To Felix Or Not To Felix, That Is The Question. And There By Hangs A TailÖ

By Chuck Dishno
August 8, 2015

This may sound like a funny title but bare with me and I will try to explain.

The year was 1948 and I had turned 14 in August. World War Two had ended with the surrender of Japan, My two brothers, Shad and Bud returned home safely albeit with brides, rationing of gas, meat and dairy products had been lifted and money was coming in. My Pop had a good job as a timber faller for Crain Mills in Bly, Oregon and were living in our ďnewĒ house that was built for us by the good people of Bly. I say new house because it was built in the summer of 1941 a few months prior to the start of WWII.

Early November, 1948. The new Sears and Montgomery Ward winter catalog had arrived and we were all taking turns thumbing through this ďwish bookĒ thinking of what we might want for Christmas. We all had our favorite sections; my brothers spent time ogling at the ladies lingerie section, Pop looking at the tools, Mom at the kitchen gadgets, Grandmother Etta at the long warm underwear and me looking at the sporting goods and toys.

One day, Mom and I were sitting at the dining room table looking thru the catalogs. I was looking at the sporting goods and when I looked up I saw a slight smile on Momís face. She was looking at an array of kitchen clocks. When I asked her what she was doing she said. ďOh, I was thinking how much I would like a kitchen wall clock.Ē I then pointed to a couple of them and commented on how nice those were. Mom then replied that they really were nice but she had her favorite and pointed to a large Felix the Cat but the price was too much. The Felix was a large wall hanging clock that had a black body with big eyes and a tail that hangs down like an upside down question mark. The clock sits in the body and the tail swings back and forth while the eyes swish from side to side in unison to the tail. Felix really was cute and when I looked at the price I could see why Mom was so hesitant. Mom then shrugged and said, someday she would like one but she could do with the windup alarm clock that sat on her drain board. Mom then got up and headed to the kitchen to start dinner.

I sat there looking at that cat and made the decision that if thatísí what Mom wanted, I would find a way to buy it for her for Christmas. The price was $7.00 plus shipping. That may not sound like much today but in 1948 it was a lot of money especially for 14 year old kid who didnít have much money.

I did have a job running the Herald and News paper rout but lost a lot of customers for the winter as the woods were shut down and the sawmill was only running one or two shifts. Most of my customers would be back in the spring when things opened up again.

My monthly needs werenít that much but hadnít saved much from the summer. I had a sweet tooth and usually bought a couple of Cherry-A-Let candy bars, a daily Cherry Phosphate at Protsmanís Variety store after school and an occasional bottle or two of Pepsi. When I turned 12, my Pop gave me a 12 gauge Model 97 Winchester shotgun and I used up a lot of shells learning to shoot ducks and geese. My plans were to buy a shell vest and a recoil pad for the Winchester since it kicked like an old mule. About the only other expense was the 13 cent admission to the theater 3 nights a week.

I could get along without any of these but I was determined to get Mom her clock one way or other. I could always ask Pop for the money but I was dead set on earning it myself. Pop taught me to be independent.

One way was to get a part time job. There werenít a lot of jobs out there for a 14 year old lad but I was determined to try and find one even if it was only for a few hours. At that time Bly consisted of 5 or 6 beer joints and one pool hall where kids werenít allowed, two gas stations, one variety store, one grocery store a movie theater and one bowling alley that used pin setters.

One afternoon, after I had exhausted all the other possibilities I decided to try the bowling alley. I guess that should be plural since it had only two lanes. As soon as I finished my paper deliveries, I stopped by the bowling alley. It was housed in one half of a large Quonset type building with a bar and dance floor in the other half. I found the owner, Jake, sitting at the end of the bar and he said there we no kids allowed. I explained that I was looking for a job, maybe as a pin-setter. He then looked me over and wondered if I could handle the job as it was very physical. I donít wonder about his concern as I weighed only about 110lbs. He must have seen the determination in my eye because he told me that if I really wanted to be a pin-setter he would give me a try. He also said that one of his pin-setters had quit that day and if I could fill the job it was mine.

When I agreed to give it a try Jake walked me over to the bowling alleys, picked up a ball, threw it down one of the alleys, scattering the pins all over the place. He then repeated it on the other alley. We then walked down the side to the pin racks and he jumped in the pit and showed me what I had to do. For those of you who donít know how those old manual bowling racks work I will try to explain:

The pit behind the rack is about 10 feet square and padded on three sides by one of the old cotton mattresses. The first thing the pin boy has to do is jump into the pit as soon as the pins stop flying. He then reaches up and pulls a rope that brings down a large triangle rack. It stops about chest high, and then the setter reaches down and picks up the pins, places them on their sides in the respective slots on the rack making sure there is not a pin under that one that has not been knocked over. He then pulls the rack all the way down which triggers a mechanism on the bottom that sets all the pins in the upright position. After they have stopped wobbling he reaches for another rope that pulls the rack back up and out of the way. Before the pins are set he picks up the bowling ball and sends it on its way back to the bowler making sure he doesnít do this too soon as the bowler is anxious to fire again. As soon as the pins are set and the ball is back the pin boy has to jump up on the backstop, pull his knees up to avoid flying pins.

After explaining how the thing works and what is inspected of me, Jake stepped into the pit and gave me a graphic demonstration complete with a few words that I had heard before but hadnít used too frequently. It was then my turn to set the other pit. I jumped off the backstop and tried to emulate what Jake had done. I think I did fairly well but Jake had big hands and could pick up two pins in each hand. With my small hands I could only pick up one at a time but I worked fast and finished the job albeit a little slower than Jake. After I had set a few more alleys Jake seemed to be pleased with my performance and said I would get faster as I progressed. He said he would try me out for a few days to see if I could handle the job. Jake then told me to return at 6pm for my first night as a pin-setter. Nothing was said about salary and I didnít ask but I assumed I would be able to make a dollar or more each evening. I thanked Jake then went home to tell my Mom that I had an extra job setting pins and needed to eat early as I was to start at 6 that evening. She wondered why I needed an extra job but I was determined to keep mum.

I showed up a few minutes before 6 and the other pin-setter was already there and was glad to see me. There were already a few bowlers trickling in and he would have to set both alleys if I hadnít arrived.

I jumped into the pit just as a couple of burley mill workers came in from the bar side ready to show off their prowess and maybe kill a novice pin-boy. I was determined to take on all comers even though I was shaking in my boots. The pins were set so I jumped to the top of the backstop and pulled my knees up. The first ball came down the alley and scattered about 8 of the pins. I now dropped into the pit, lowered the rack and started picking them up, one in each hand then after placing them in their respective slots I picked up the ball and sent it back down the chute to the waiting bowler. I thought I did it pretty fast but I could hear the bowler grumbling that I was taking to long so as soon as the ball returned he fired another round. I wasnít quite ready but did manage to get out of the way in time. I then heard Jake tell the bowler to take it easy on the kid as this was his first night. After that seemed to go smoothly and in a couple of hours I had set 8 lines.

Jake came back to see how I was holding up and saw that I was really tired so he told me to go home and come back the next evening when things would really pick up being a Saturday. Nothing had been said about how much I was to be paid but I figured I had made at least a dollar or more. When we got up front, Jake said I did a good job for my first night and handed me .56 cents. I looked at a little disappointed and Jake said he thought I knew that pin-setter get 7 cents a line no matter how good he is. The bonus is he gets to drink all the Nehi High strawberry pop he wants but only strawberry. I then pocketed my 56 cents figuring the next night I would try to work a little faster and try to double my money.

Pin-setting is very labor intensive since the pins weigh about 3 pounds each. During a normal line (game) he has to pick up to as many as 100 pins plus picking up the bowling ball at least 20 times. These balls alone weigh about 16 lbs. Iíll let you do your own math but in the course of a one line the poor setter has lifted several hundred pounds

I walked home, anxious to get rid of all the strawberry soda that was building up in me. As soon as I came in, Mom and Pop could tell how tired was. I said I was going to head right to bed but Mom insisted I have a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. I remember flopping in bed but thatís all until the next morning. I tried to get up but I was so sore I could hardly move. Every muscle in my body ached as never before. When I finally made it into the dining room after a stop to get rid of some more residual strawberry soda, Mom had a big breakfast waiting for me. He again wondered why I was working so hard, but I wasnít about to tell.

Itís a good thing that this day was Saturday and I didnít have anything to do until 3:30 when I had to pick up my bundle of newspapers and start my route. By that time I had worked out most of the kinks so I took the bundle home to fold them for throwing. I had developed a method that folded the paper into a triangle making for accurate throwing. Off on my route I attempted to throw my first paper but all I could get out of it was about 15feet. After a few more tries I got better and finished my route. I then headed home to have and early dinner then off to my new job hoping I could last the evening.

As soon as I got there and settled myself into my pit the bowlers began to trickle out of the bar. This seemed to be a mixture of mill workers and timber fallers, all out to do each other and impress their girlfriends and wives. It wasnít long before the first ball came crashing into my pins and within 3 hours I had set over 20 lines and headed home with over $1.50 in my pocket. I was happy albeit pooped; I could see the end in sight and figured if I could hold out another week or two my goal would be achieve.

To be continued...