An early photo shoes the bowling alley at the Elk's Club in Fond du Lac. The alley is the oldest sanctioned bowling establishment in the nation.
One of the questions that I hear quite often is, "What prompts you to write about certain subjects?" The answer: Generally it's something that happened recently. This time it was a trip down South Military Road where I came upon the big empty spot that once was the Karl Ray Bowling Lanes. That brought back some long ago memories when I did a little bowling at some of the bowling establishments that are no longer with us.
My first experience with bowling came not as a bowler but as a pin setter at the old Arcade Lanes at Merrill Avenue and Main Street. The building is still there, but the lanes have been gone for quite a few years. Back in the 1940s, the Arcade, the Alhambra and the West Side Lanes were the most popular lanes in town.
Other places that had lanes were Ruepings Leather, The Elks Club and St. Mary's School, after the new school was constructed. However, St. Mary's gave up its lands many years ago, as did Ruepings. Today, other than the two remaining "big ones," the Elks still has bowling and owns the title of the oldest sanctioned bowling establishment (with just four lanes) in the nation. That's only 32 fewer lanes than you can find at Ledgview Lanes. The other remaining bowling place is the Parkway and it has 16 lanes. The Alhambra also had 16 lanes and the West Side had eight lanes. The Arcade operated many years with 10 lanes on the first floor but later added eight more in the downstairs about the time when pinsetters were replaced by the automatic machines. Some of the outlying towns that still have or did have lanes are Brownsville, Eldorado, Campbellsport, Van Dyne, St. Peter and Mount Calvary.
It was back in the early 1950s that I started bowling and my first taste of sactioned league bowling was in the Tuesday Night Arcade City League. At first, I used alley balls until I bought my first ball from an old friend, Howie Wade. He was taking care of the meat department in his parents' grocery store on West Scott Street at the time when I went in to purchase some meat, and right in full view on top of the meat case sat this bowling ball. So I asked Howie why it was there and he said he was trying to sell it. He handed it to me to try for fit, and it fit my hand perfectly. He let me take it to the Arcade and after three games of league bowling, I had my own ball. The only drawback was that it had the initials "HFW" engraved in it. My son Andy still uses that ball today.
Getting back to the Arcade City League, there are a couple of stories that I will always remember. The team that I bowled on consisted of Pat and Norm Carlone (father and son), Les Du Frane ( my father-in-law), myself and Erv Boettcher who was our sponsor and owned the Schlitz Beer Distributive franchise in Fond du Lac. One Tuesday night, as we were bowling on alleys 1 and 2, right by the bar, we were greeted by a man named Williams who was a high-ranking employee of Schlitz. He ordered the bartender to put as many small bottles of Schlitz that would fit on two round Schlitz trays, one for each team. That went on all during league bowling. We (hic) all had (hic) a very good (hic) time.
Another night to remember was when I bowled my highest score ever. I was dead tired from doing concrete work that day and even considered letting a sub bowl, but I went anyway and hit a score of 673. I was surprised to see the headline on The Reporter's sports page, in big bold letters, that read, "Doll hits 673."And finally, my proudest moment was after the 1953-54 season when I was awarded the achievement award for the greatest average improvement in the league. I had bettered my average by 15 pins over the previous season. Must have been that ball with "HFW" on it.