The weatherman took top 10 pin honors at Hood River’s Orchard Lanes last week. Our good intentions to have leagues and conduct the umpteenth annual city bowling tournament were snowed out in that unending blizzard. This is a good time to reflect on this great game of ours. It has come a long way.

Bowling’s most recent past heydays occurred around the 1960s. Those were boom times for bowling, everybody bowled, bowling centers were filled with leagues from morning to midnight. It was even difficult to get an open lane to practice.

In those tumultuous times our lanes were wood and bowling balls were hard rubber. The lanes were built in place using 1” x 3” maple and pine boards that were nailed together on end, 40 boards wide to a lane, 78’ long including the approach. The approach, front 15’ and the back end of the lane is where hard maple was used because those areas took a beating from ball and pin impact. Lanes were sanded smooth and protected with shellac which was later upgraded to a urethane coating for fire protection. Wood lanes were soft and erratic.

The lane surface was conditioned using oil which was sprayed on by hand with a pump sprayer that was more commonly used to apply pesticides to your garden plants. That old spray gun technique was only as good as the applicator so the inconsistencies from day to day and lane to lane were monumental. That made the game hard.

Bowlers only used one ball then, we used it for strikes and spares. The hard rubber ball hooked on dry lanes but in oil most bowlers could barely wrinkle it. Scoring was difficult, it was rare to see perfect 300 games and a 700 series would get you on TV, there might have been a couple of each in an entire eight-month season in a big city. There were also maybe a couple of 200 average bowlers and those that attained such status did so with pinpoint accuracy, they almost never missed a spare. Strikes were hard to come by.

In the ensuing 60 years things have really evolved. Major changes have occurred with lane conditioning, bowling balls and even the lanes themselves. The manufacturers began tweaking bowling balls to make them hook more. They put a dense core in the center of the ball that acted like an engine to help create revolutions. From hard rubber, we went to plastic, then urethane and now reactive resin bowling balls. Our modern high-tech bowling balls practically hook off the lane with very little hand from the bowler. The net result is they have so much hook power now that the previously formidable pins don’t have a chance anymore.

Now we also use computerized lane machines that cost as much as a new BMW which apply oil in a perfectly repeatable pattern every time. Modern lanes today are constructed of plastic that is nearly of diamond hardness and they are as smooth as glass. They tend to cause increased reactions, more skid in oil and more hook when dry. Now, instead of being able to get by with one ball, we need several balls that hook a little, a lot and even none! If you can find the right combination and create a good arsenal of bowling balls, the sky is the limit. Three hundred games and 800 series abound in the modern bowling world. So, what does it all mean? Go bowling everybody, the thrill of those poor pins exploding with every power ball you roll, scattering all 10 pins for strikes. That unmistakable strike sound has been part of this great game since its inception!

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