My short bio: I'm an A2 pinsetter mechanic. I'm the guy who lives in the back of the building and crawls out of the darkness to fix things when they break. You occasionally see my feet underneath the back wall. I've been doing this for about 4 years and will soon be the head mechanic at my location.

My Proof: - A collection of pictures I've taken at work, mostly of interesting breakdowns. If you scroll far enough, there are cute cat pictures.

EDIT: I'm going to bed for the night, thank you for your questions, everyone! If you still want to know something or didn't get a question in, feel free to comment, I'll run through any questions I missed in the morning.

EDIT2: This is getting way more attention than I expected, thank you for all of the questions! It might take some time, but I'll try to answer all of them.

Comments: 488 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

theBytemeister245 karma

How long does a bowling pin last before it needs to be replaced? Do you repair pins? Is there a website you order bowling pins from?

What's the craziest non-bowling damage you've seen on bowling machine equipment?

HighWizardOrren351 karma

Bowling pins are insanely tough, they'll last many years so long as they aren't being repeatedly damaged by the machine. We don't repair them—once they're done, they're done. We occasionally sell old pins if people ask for them, usually as shooting targets. New pins are ordered through the same internal order system we use for mechanical parts or any other typical supplies.

Non-bowling damage limits it a fair bit... I've seen a number of machines jammed up because a plastic toy from the arcade made its way down the lane and into a critical area. I've seen a number of large metal parts snap in half due to the general stresses of time. (See images 6 and 8 in my proof album.) I've had the same black light shattered three separate times by a college-aged kid throwing a 6-pound ball up into the ceiling.

Really though, these machines are built like tanks. I can't tell you how many times I've found a part snapped in half or horribly worn down, and the lane was barely malfunctioning. It's always either a case of "How the hell was this still running? How did I not notice this until now?", or a single tiny part breaking and making the entire machine completely nonfunctional.

EDIT: additional info people will probably find interesting. We generally replace all our pins at once, when they're all more or less worn down enough to warrant it. Replacing all the pins for 40 lanes costs right around $10,000. Each lane ideally has 21 pins. (Two full racks + 1 extra to help speed up resets.)

polo42167 karma

Did you know that British people call bowling pins "skittles"?

HighWizardOrren148 karma

Yes! They also have a lot more candlepin (or stringpin) bowling over there.

As a mechanic, I honestly believe that stringpin machines are the way of the future. The amount of maintenance they need is practically zero. They're so, so much less complicated that current machines. If they ever get sanctioned for USBC play, centers will start swapping over to them and I'll eventually be out of a job. Won't even be mad, those machines just straight up do the job way better.

polo42152 karma

I assume this is what OP is talking about. Really cool, never seen it before though. Thanks for taking the time to answer!

HighWizardOrren61 karma

This is a great video!

What's really incredible about stringpin machines is how much they let you take OUT of the machine. You no longer need a pin or ball elevator, you no longer need a turret, you no longer need a pit assembly, you no longer need a DECK assembly... they're ridiculously simple.

Logical_Lemur38 karma

I've been bowling for over 30 years (yes my arm is tired), throughout the UK and Europe and I've never seen a stringpin bowling machine in real life only on YouTube.

HighWizardOrren52 karma

Neither have I, but when I did the training for my B-mechanic certification, I heard about them from a guy who's been working on A2s for 42 years.

Apparently a center one of his acquaintances worked at installed them. 3 years later, and they hadn't had to go into the back once. That's just... beyond unimaginable. I get 20-30 calls a day.

GeorgeAmberson3 karma

Neat! What's the procedure there for purchasing old pins? Just go up to the counter like "Do you guys sell old used pins?" How much do people generally pay for them. I used to have one from my grandfather and it's been lost to time, I'd like to have another.

HighWizardOrren3 karma

Yep, just go ask your local center. I think our asking rate for old pins is $15, but we've sold them for as low as $3 in the past, which is a much more fair price.

Pretty much every center should have a few old, worn down/broken pins in the back. If they say they don't, they're probably just trying to get out of ringing it up. Come back when there's a different manager around or try to talk to a mechanic directly.

AgentScreech-18 karma

Please don't give or sell pins for shooting practice. They've been basically solid plastic for a good 20 years now. All but the most powerful rounds will ricochet in an unpredictable way.

The old pins were plastic coated wood and were decent targets as the bullet would usually penetrate.

HighWizardOrren20 karma

The only pins I've ever seen are plastic coating compressed wood. The pins that are damaged enough that we sell them are typically damaged to the point that you can actually see the wood inside of them. (The head breaks off, or there's a crack down the middle, or you can just look at the base of the pin and see the wood center.)

ghost_alliance238 karma

Just want to pop in and say this has been one of the most informative AMAs I've come across. Glad you're enjoying your work!

From someone who hasn't bowled since the early 2000s, how would you say alleys have changed (or not) in the past few decades? And is cosmic bowling or any other gimmicky themes still around?

HighWizardOrren170 karma

Well, I've only been with the company since 2014, so I don't know how much I can speak to prior decades.

When I was first hired, we still had smoke machines. We don't have those anymore. We do cosmic at all times now, except when a league is running, and then we do cosmic in the portion of the house that isn't running league games. The scoring systems have gone through a number of upgrades, and have gotten a lot better over time.

The machines themselves haven't changed a bit. A2s were designed in the 60s and built in the 70s and 80s, and have been maintained ever since. They'll get the occasional new part but fundamentally they're the same machine that's been going up and down for 40 years.

professor__doom65 karma

A2s were designed in the 60s and built in the 70s and 80s

My grandpa was a pinsetter in high school in the late 30s. Meaning he literally hung out behind the lanes and set up the pins by hand. Of course, this was in a pretty rural part of the country where electricity and indoor plumbing weren't yet universal.

Were some alleys automated at that time? Have you ever run into anything older than the 60s?

HighWizardOrren4 karma

The Brunswick A pinsetter was first developed in 1956. It was then developed into the A2 (pretty much all A's were converted to A2s, and factories started making A2 directly), and later the JetBack. All three work in fundamentally the same way.

As far as I know, the A machines were the first automated pinsetters. Before that it was all just manually setting up the pins and returning the balls.

kernelius192 karma

When dickheads throw the ball in the air and it thuds on the alley, how badly does it damage the surface?

HighWizardOrren469 karma

Barely, if at all. The lanes are frickin' indestructible. I have it on good faith that a former mechanic took a sledgehammer to one and couldn't make a mark.

In practice, you definitely can scratch or dent up the lanes, but they're literally designed for people to throw bowling balls on them for decades at a time. They're extremely durable.

Still don't do it, though.

Ibewye9 karma

How back in day with the wooden lanes?

Friend gave me couple old sections he had salvaged from place that shutdown. I used for my kitchen island and we noticed their was a section where it finger jointed two different kinds of wood.

His thought it was the first 15’ or so were maple or a hardwood and then would switch to a cheaper pine. The idea being the hardwood would stand up against sky balls. Any truth to that?

reclaimedbowlingwood37 karma

Not OP, but I reclaim bowling alley lanes for a living. It's been my thing for the past 13 years.

In 99% of the alleys I encounter, the first 32ft are maple, the next 43ft are pine, and the final 4ft are maple. It makes sense to have the harder wood where you to stand to throw the ball, where the ball lands, and where the ball hits the pins. I always thought it was because pine wood was cheaper, but I did some research and Brunswick claims it was also for the more open grain of the pine wood. Maybe it's true, or maybe it was Brunswick trying to explain their cost cutting as a benefit, haha. Here is a scan of an old newspaper article going into more detail:

We definitely see dents in the pine sections of the wood, and I always think about the dudes that lofted the balls 30ft down the lane to make that happen. There are still plenty of dents in the maple section of the wood too, but they're very shallow. When I'm sanding or planing the wood, I try to leave traces of the dents:

You're also correct about the section where there are two different kinds of wood. The first transition is typically 20in, and the transition back to maple at the pin deck is usually 16in. Here is a picture of that transition, which is called a splice on technical documents:

Happy to answer any other questions. :)

HighWizardOrren8 karma

Thank you for coming in with the proper answer to this! You're much better qualified than I am on this one, haha

Interesting bit I noticed, those wooden lanes are easily 2-3 times thicker than the synthetic ones. When I install new lane panels, they're maybe 3/4" thick? Makes sense that real wood would need to be a bit more substantial.

HighWizardOrren2 karma

I honestly don't really know. Everything around me and every center I've even been in uses synthetic, and they don't exactly change them often. I know that when bowling began to die down in Japan, some enterprising individuals bought up all the lanes over there and sold them to new centers being built in the US, but I don't actually know if they were wood or synthetic.

Wood lanes are much, much harder to maintain. If I had to guess, they probably haven't been frequently used in the past 20 years or so. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the first lane panel was made of harder wood, that sounds extremely practical.

nichinator128 karma

Have you ever been hit by a bowling ball while working on a bowling lane? And what do you do to stop that from happening

HighWizardOrren269 karma

No, but I have had people throw balls at the lane right as I was going down to work on it. While the lane was turned off, and there were already 2 other balls stuck in the lane. Not the brightest of bulbs.

If I have to get down onto the lane and there are bowlers present, I can manually drop the rake (the bar that sweeps away the pins) in front of me. Then if someone throws a ball, it will hit that and scare the living hell out of me, but not actually hurt me.

The VAST majority of work I do doesn't require me to get down onto the lane itself, though.

WastingMyLifeHere2112 karma

Do you bowl?

What's the stupidest thing that you saw someone do?

Coolest ball you've seen?

Best team name?

HighWizardOrren264 karma

Unfortunately, I spend the vast majority of my time fixing lanes. No time to really bowl.

Definitely walking down the lane. For the LOVE OF GOD, DON'T WALK DOWN THE LANE. Best case scenario, you slip and eat shit. Worst case scenario, you make it all the way to the machine, go underneath it for some reason, and get CRUSHED TO DEATH BY HEAVY MACHINERY.

Definitely a clear ball with a skull inside. I love that thing, see it from time to time when getting ball returns.

There are so many good team names. I like the Tucking Fen Pins and "Jobu Needs a Refill!".

AgentScreech81 karma

When I was a mechanic at a bowling alley, I had that ball.

I bowled for free on my off days and got a hefty discount at the pro shop. Ended up with a 191 average before I quit. I'm still in the 170's today just bowling occasionally.

You should try it!

HighWizardOrren82 karma

I get two free games for me and any friends I bring every day, and then a SEVERE discount beyond that. I really enjoy it, but I generally enjoy video games and staying at home more in my off time haha

I average around 110-120. I can't curve a ball to save my life. Fortunately, I know some truly skilled bowlers for if I need to test a new oil pattern.

DMCinDet15 karma

That is so weird that you're in a bowling center daily and not good at or interested in bowling.

HighWizardOrren3 karma

I'm very interested in bowling, but I don't really spend enough time practicing to be good at it. My other hobbies soak up my free time.

joremero0 karma

"I can't curve a ball to save my life."

You know most of that is done by the ball, right?

HighWizardOrren3 karma

Maybe if you're Mark Rober. For everyone else, you need to throw the ball in such a way that it has lots of rotational force. It slides over the oiled portion of the lane, slipping opposite to the direction of rotation, then 'catches' on the un-oiled portion of the lane, causing it to curve back over into the pins.

NorCalAthlete110 karma

What the hell is inside the ball return that gouges chunks out of balls on occasion? I had a brand new ball one time that on its first outing came out with a chunk about 1”x0.5”x0.25” deep taken out of it by the ball return. Manager just blamed it on me and said it was either already like that or I threw it too hard and it was just normal wear and tear.

HighWizardOrren168 karma

It was ABSOLUTELY not your fault.

The ball returns have two C-shaped curved metal brackets that guide the ball upward in an S-shaped path. They are lined with a soft, rubbery material to provide traction and help the ball move upward. If that rubbery-foam material breaks up, the ball will get shoved right up against the metal and it will take a chunk out of it.

Could also be something loose in the back of the lane. The most common culprit would be one of the ball wheel guards that help prevent pins from slipping underneath the lane. The mounting on them is a bit janky and if they come loose, they'll scratch the everliving hell out of a bowling ball. It's pretty rare for it to happen, but they would cause the most damage of any normal circumstance.

Other than that, could be a random piece of debris or loose bolt in the underground track. The ball return systems and lift at the front of the lane differ pretty wildly between locations, so it would depend on what kind of system your center was using. But gouges in the ball are absolutely NOT normal wear. A properly running machine should NEVER damage a ball.

pvnkbvnny68 karma


HighWizardOrren107 karma

Oh, how I long for the days of the bowling shoe. At some point they realized they had much better efficacy with the bumper sticks. I am covered in bruises.

But more seriously, I try to come out and talk to customers if I have to move them off of a lane. Give them some kind of idea of "there's a giant metal part that broke, the lane is inoperable" or "it's behaving really wrong and I don't know why yet, I don't want to make you deal with this."

I also try to show my face around the leagues, so they know who's fixing their lanes, and I often time my oiling so they can see me putting away the machine and don't complain about oil conditions. Other than that, I try to stay in the back whenever possible to avoid huge crowds late at night.

burtgummer4556 karma

Who do you think you are I am?

HighWizardOrren80 karma

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

hellfiredarkness49 karma

Is there a specific reason for wearing the special bowling shoes?

HighWizardOrren112 karma

Well, they give the center money, and I'm convinced that's the main reason.

Second to that, they won't leave marks all over the approaches. Regular shoes will leave skid marks everywhere. And I'm the guy who has to clean them up. They suck.

Tertiarily, and the "proper" reason, is because they allow you to slide on the approach. A lot of people assume they're meant to do the opposite of this, and prevent you from sliding. But, if you're delivering a bowling ball properly, you actually should be sliding on one foot as you approach, and stopping just short of the foul line. This allows you to carry the maximum possible forward momentum into your throw.

If you step over the fowl line your ball is supposed to be worth nothing regardless of how many pins you knock down, but we've had the foul lights turned off for years because 1) they're pretty worn out, and 2) people will ENDLESSLY complain about them while they step two feet past the foul line.

nonnybaby58 karma

For item 2) in the last paragraph, do you yell at them and say, “Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!”

HighWizardOrren48 karma

No, the league bowlers do that. I just look at the footprints in the oil 15-20 feet down the lane and die a little inside.

nonnybaby18 karma

Lol. Do you get tired of the Big Lebowski quotes?

HighWizardOrren104 karma

I think some people do. But, yeah, well, like, y'know, that's just like, uh, their opinion, man.

KCBandWagon5 karma

I have a pair of non rental bowling shoes and one has grip and the other has almost felt to slide. Kinda like curling shoes.

HighWizardOrren7 karma

Most bowlers prefer to slide on one foot or the other, with the non-sliding foot kicked back or slightly up in the air. Presumably those shoes are intended to slide on the one foot, with the other kicked back. You'd only really need the slide material on one.

gankindustries47 karma

Did you have any prior mechanical experience before you started the job? Were you apprenticed or just thrown into the deep end? How many mechanics does the Alley employ? How'd you even hear about this job?

Sorry to bombard you.

HighWizardOrren98 karma

I had no mechanical experience. I started as a front desk attendant while in college, as my first job.

Eventually, I started showing interest in the mechanical side of things, and pestered management enough that they let me start to learn how to fix machines.

I wasn't really apprenticed, the guy in charge of the machines when I started working on them basically gave me the manual and said "read this, it will tell you how to fix things." This is really not ideal, and I've strived to properly teach mechanics that joined the team after me. Fortunately I was able to pick things up pretty well on the job, but the machines are very complicated, and it's a long way from knowing how to clear to jams to knowing how the machine really WORKS.

There are currently three mechanics at my center. We all work 5 days a week, though one of us works two of those days at a different center. There should be a mechanic in the building at ALL TIMES that it is open to the public. We're looking to hire another mechanic soon.

I found the job by googling "jobs near me" back in 2014. Started as front desk and moved into the mechanic position later. I don't really know what the hiring process looks like now, but I think that it's only recently that we started hiring people directly into mechanic positions rather than promoting interally.

Apidium20 karma

Why is a mech needed so much? Like at all times.

Are failures so common they would shut the place down as nobody could bowl anymore or is it a case that they become hazardous or something?

HighWizardOrren69 karma

Parts actually wearing out/breaking is relatively rare.

Pins or balls getting jammed in weird spots in extremely common.

The machines really aren't beginner-friendly. I try to teach the basics to the managers so they can catch basic calls, but it take skill to work on them, and to quickly and efficiently identify what the problem is, and how to fix it.

There are like, 20 different problems that can all present as "The rake is stuck at the back of the lane and isn't moving." My job isn't so much about CONSTANTLY fixing things, as it is about knowing WHAT is wrong and fixing it quickly.

On the occasions when scheduling mishaps have caused the center to run without a mechanic for a while, what generally happens is a bunch of lanes get very minor problems and nobody knows how to fix them, so they just move the bowlers to another lane and wait for a mechanic to arrive. Then I come in and do 4-5 quick fixes in 4-5 minutes and they can use the lanes again.

Apidium14 karma

Jazzy and thanks for the reply. I had no idea that jamming was so common.

HighWizardOrren19 karma

You're not the only one. I've been asked the same question by many, many people over the years haha

Nbrif138 karma

Do you mind me asking how much a bowling alley mechanic makes on average?

HighWizardOrren93 karma

There are a couple tiers of mechanic. C-mechanics are the new hires, B-mechanics are those with a few years of experience, Facility Managers are the head mechanics at a location with a wealth of experience, leading the mechanic team at a given location.

As a C-mechanic I always made minimum wage or just slightly above it, I believe our C-mechanics now are making about a dollar above minimum wage. I work in California where minimum is $15, C-mechanics are making 15-16 based on experience and performance.

When I was promoted to B-mechanic, I got a raise to $20/hour, though I think this might have been because I made a good impression on my district manager. Other B-mechanics might make 18-20 depending on experience.

I'll be the Facility Manager at my location soon, and am expecting $23-25/hour. Bear in mind that this is all in California, and you should probably shift it to be the same amount of dollars above minimum wage in whatever state you're looking at.

B-mechanics and above are full-time workers that get a benefits package.

PrinceHumperTinkTink11 karma

As a C-mechanic I always made minimum wage or just slightly above it...

This is kind of silly to me. From an outside observer, it seems like a non-zero amount of danger when working back there and you have to be a bit of a contortionist while you work on complex machinery that you need training to repair. It doesn't make sense that they make as much as the guy responsible for spraying the shoes (no offense, shoe-sprayers).

That's like finding out that my car mechanic makes as much money as the cashier.

HighWizardOrren12 karma

Oh, I absolutely agree with you. I've been fighting to get the mechanics to make more for as long as I've been a mechanic. The lower mechanics are learning complex fixes and trying to take in a whole bunch of information on how to fix things and what can go wrong, and the higher mechanics have a large wealth of very specialist knowledge and skills.

Things are actually a lot better now than they were under prior management, and there's a bit of a shortage of skilled mechanics industry-wide, so I'm hoping we continue to earn a bit more in the future.

Gingerbread_Cat36 karma

How long ago did the inflatable gutter sausages stop being a thing?

We had a 3 generation bowling trip a couple of weeks ago, my first time in a couple of decades, and I asked for the sausages for my kids, who had never bowled before. I got a strange look and a 'they come up automatically'. We were all completely baffled, till we started setting up the players on the computer and saw the tick box for rails. Two generations of us were completely blown away and pointed and giggled every time it was a kid's turn.

Mind you, I vaguely remember when I as a kid and there was no computer, you had to write the scores down.

All these improvements in bowling technology and I'm still terrible at it.

HighWizardOrren49 karma

I honestly have no idea. The center where I work has gutters that we have to lift up manually with a stick, and that's all I've ever really known.

I've been to centers with the automatic bumpers, and we're supposedly going to get those eventually at my center, and those really seem like the top-of-the-line way of the future. Bumpers on a per-bowler basis? Amazing! Except when they break down and have to be lifted up manually.

Anyway, I've only seen air-powered bumpers at one location, on the opposite side of the country from where I live. I think those are VERY uncommon nowadays. But as it turns out, there are a whole lot of different options for pretty much everything in bowling. The lane can be wood or synthetic; the machines can be A2, A2s converted from As, GS-Xs, AMF 82-70/90s; the bumpers can be air-powered, manually lifted, or automatic; the end product delivered to the customer should be roughly the same in all cases.

Even the electronic scoring has a bunch of different configurations. It was simple when you wrote it down on paper—now you have Vector and Qubica, each behaving differently, and nowadays you use a camera to detect which pins are standing, whereas back in the day you had a pressure switch for each pin that reported what was standing when the deck lowered. There is a LOT going on in the world of ancillary bowling equipment.

TL;DR Sausages haven't been a thing since probably before I was born, depending on where you bowl. There's a billion different configurations your local alley might be using.

abbarach5 karma

Automatic bumpers are great until they aren't. I used to league bowl, and a lot of times when I came in to practice during open bowling I'd end up with one of the nearby lanes using bumpers. Our center is kind of run down, and although the bumpers are automatic, most lanes had sticky spots where they wouldn't fully deploy. The solution was to go poke at the head end of it with your foot until you jostled it enough that it would unstick and lock in the up position.

I tried to help the staff by either jiggling it myself, or showing a parent how to jiggle it, so the staff wouldn't have to come over every single frame and do it. I'm sure it would have been possible to fix them properly, but this is the same center where had to change lanes in the middle of a match once because the roof was leaking halfway between the foul line and the pin deck, so maintenance was not the highest priority...

HighWizardOrren4 karma

Yeah, everything needs to be maintained. The sad truth is that a lot of things will get ignored until they break entirely, and it doesn't help that all of the machinery is getting bowling balls thrown at it for years at a time.

SaltyFresh34 karma

What’s the weirdest shit you’ve found back there?

HighWizardOrren98 karma

So many plastic toys from the arcade that end up jammed in the machine.

I've found rings, thumb inserts, and chunks of bowling ball under the lane before. Alongside truly enormous amounts of dirt and grime.

But from my point of view, I'm inclined to say "metric nuts." I love the metric system and prefer it to imperial, but when the entire machine uses the imperial system, what in the everliving hell is a metric nut doing on the machine? I don't know who used them in the past, but I hope they have lots of 7-10 splits in the future.

JerichoJonah5 karma

when the entire machine uses the imperial system, what in the everliving hell is a metric nut doing on the machine?

Probably the previous mechanic was just like my Dad was back in the day: “this metric socket/nut/bolt isn’t exactly what I need, but heck, it’s close enough. I should add, however, this was not precisely calibered machinery my father was dealing with.

HighWizardOrren4 karma

You can precisely calibrate machinery with the wrong nut. It will just be a huge pain to adjust later. Also these machines are surprisingly resilient. It's unbelievable what I've seen snapped in half with the machine still running mostly okay.

mbcarney33027 karma

Have you seen the 🎳 gif?

HighWizardOrren35 karma

I have seen many bowling gifs.

The one that most readily comes to mind is the guy who runs down a lane, grabs the rake, gets hit in the head by a bowling ball, and then gets swept back and forward by the rake before running out of the lane.

It is astounding that that man escaped without further serious injury.

mbcarney33014 karma

that sounds horrible and I also envy the fact that you don't know the gif I'm referring to

Have a great one

HighWizardOrren8 karma

Okay but now I really wanna see it. You should definitely post a link, or DM me if you don't want to post it. Hit me with your worst.

mbcarney3308 karma

Man it's making the rounds on the bird app if you really wanna see it search "¡Esquívame esta!🎳" on Twitter warning you it's vile/nsfw/pornographic and remember you asked to see it

HighWizardOrren19 karma

It's alarming how well this would fit in with the old 3D exciter videos, in a world with a much dirtier sense of humor. I guarantee that like 50% of our regulars would absolutely crack up at it.

feskil22 karma

What is the longest one can slide on a lane? Is it as comically slippery as movies make it out to be?

HighWizardOrren72 karma

You could side 2/3 of the way down on a house shot before the oil ran out. Then, if you managed to slide further, you would probably be crushed by the machine and die a horrible death. If you're exceedingly lucky, you'll be swept back into the pit and be extremely jostled up until someone turns off the machine, or only suffer from a few badly broken bones.

It is extremely slippery. The intention is for spin on a ball to not do anything for the first 2/3 of the lane, and then kick in on the back third. If you tried to run down a freshly oiled lane you would make it about two steps before you slipped and fell in an extremely comical, but rather painful and embarrassing, display.

If there was one single thing I could ask of customers, it wouldn't be to not break the machines. It would be to not set foot on the lanes, because it will end poorly for you in the vast, vast majority of cases.

Apidium20 karma

Have you considered petitioning a 'oil skating' section where folks can slip and slide to their hearts content?

Bc if there was a little space at the side with a sign saying 'see how slippy it is' it would 100% have a bash.

HighWizardOrren36 karma

That actually sounds like it would be fun for the employees, so we could watch people eat shit on extremely slippery lanes.

It would be a huge liability issue, though. Slipping and falling onto a hard synthetic wood surface can do some real damage. To you, not to the lane.

Apidium8 karma

Surely that can be mitigated with a sign!

I have always wanted to have a bash at sliding on them. Being pureed for my troubles doesn't quite seem worth it though.

HighWizardOrren12 karma

Honestly it would be pretty gross, you'd get all covered in oil. Go buy a slip-n-slide instead, it will be a lot more fun. See if you can buy/grab some old bowling pins from your local lanes and set them up at the end! They're heavier than you think, be careful sliding into them.

compersious18 karma

Are you heavily unionised? I only ask as I hear there are a lot of strikes.

HighWizardOrren22 karma

Those groups tend to get split up, but I'll spare you the details.

But to actually answer the question, there are no bowling staff/mechanic unions that I know about. There aren't any anti-union activities going on, but I don't know about anyone trying to actively unionize.

palbuddy123415 karma

Do Bowling alley's make a lot of money? Where do you go for parts? It must be very niche to find stuff that you need. What is the next big thing to impress me as a customer in a bowling alley? Thanks! Stay safe!

HighWizardOrren30 karma

Yes. The machines are expensive, but once they're in place the maintenance is relatively cheap and they just sorta keep running and bringing in revenue for decades. Also our bar/snackbar rake in tons of revenue.

We get our parts from Brunswick (who uses 3rd parties for manufacturing now and isn't great), EBN, Qubica, or a few other bowling parts manufacturing companies. A2 machines aren't made anymore, the last one was produced in 1985. Apparently there were about 110,000 of them ever produced. But, a few companies still make PARTS for them, since they're pretty common and need replacement. There are also a few warehouses out there absolutely stuffed with second-hand parts.

The next big thing to impress you probably won't be bowling. Bowling won't be fundamentally changing any time soon. Expect to see side attractions, like improved arcades, bigger/nicer bars, better dining service, etc. On the bowling side of things, the automatic bumpers are pretty cool, and some lanes are starting to get sweet rainbow LED lights.

jack_white2012 karma

Can I get crushed by the pin placing machine? I really want to go for a ride on it

HighWizardOrren54 karma

You absolutely can, and please, for the love of god, DON'T.

I really, really don't want to clean up blood, guts, and bone in all the little crevices and cracks of a lane.

The deck (the big part of the machine that goes up and down) is somewhere around 400-500 pounds and when setting new pins, lowers to 1" above the surface of the lane. Unless your head is 1" thick, I would recommend avoiding being in that location at that time.

If you MUST run down a lane, do it on a lane that is turned off, or at the VERY LEAST on FIRST BALL. And then get the hell out of my building and never come back.

kushnair11 karma

Are your parents proud of you?

HighWizardOrren59 karma

Yes, actually! Especially now that I'm moving up to a management position. There have always been many jokes about spraying shoes and keeping the world safe from toe fungus, but ultimately they're very happy that I've found continual, gainful employment where I enjoy my time, am able to support myself, and have shown continual upward mobility.

JJdante9 karma

What's the craziest thing you've seen people get up to at the bowling alley?

Where are the parts for the machines manufactured?

HighWizardOrren28 karma

At a nearby location, someone ran in after stealing a 24-pack of beer from a nearby 7/11. They were stabbed to death by a family member of the 7/11 owner and died on the approach.

Some dudes got in a fistfight around Christmas a few years back and one of them dropped a gun from his waistband. Fortunately no shots were fired.

Former employees came into work with traces of coke still under their nose.

I found a waffle maker in the back of the workbench cabinet in the mechanic's shop. It had a quesadilla inside of it, at least two years old.

As for parts, some things that need frequent replacement are still manufactured, especially by EBN. Brunswisk uses 3rd parties to manufacture parts. The really rare/specific stuff isn't really made anymore, there's just lots of spares in warehouses/the backs of random centers and it gets refurbished/reused.

Etzell8 karma

How was the quesadilla?

HighWizardOrren8 karma

I was a coward and threw it away, but it would probably have been extremely stale. No mold growing on it, at least.

DirkBabypunch8 karma

How does the pinsetter crushy thing know I've thrown the ball? I always assumed it was some sort of heavy duty contact switch, but I'm too lazy to google it.

HighWizardOrren19 karma

Two ways:

1) A laser just in front of the pins. When it's broken, the machine will reset 1.5 seconds later.

2) There's a giant slab of metal wrapped in fabric at the back of the lane. It's job is to "catch" 16-pound balls thrown at 30 miles an hour. When it gets jostled backward, it trips a mechanical switch that immediately drops the rake. When the rake drops, some clips on the cross-shaft rotate and electronically trigger the machine.

If you ever throw the ball really hard and the rake DOESN'T immediately drop, it means the link connecting the rear cushion to the rake is out of adjustment.

EthanCGamer8 karma

It's great to see a fellow A2 mech posting such a great ama! What kind of machines are yours? I personally work on factory converted A2s from 1956/1957 (steel turret frames).

Also, what's your least favorite thing to do on a pinsetter? For me it would have to be replacing the elevator assembly, closely followed by installing lift rod covers without an air tool.

HighWizardOrren4 karma

Factory A2s, not sure on the exact manufacturing date, but pretty sure they're early 80s, some of the later ones produced.

I hate changing powerlift motors more than anything, the space is incredibly cramped, but that's not really an A2 problem. I'll say servicing the pit cushion, that thing is ridiculously heavy.

I can't imagine installing lift rod covers without an air compressor. I already try to grab a second person to help with them whenever possible.

wafflepandawhale6 karma

How loud is it? Bowling alleys are definitely noisy and I am assuming it’s even louder behind the scenes! Do you wear any sort of ear protection? Did you just get used to the noise overtime? Or am I just sensitive to sound and it’s never been an issue for you?

chaorace11 karma

Enough to suffer severe hearing loss over time. It's just constant, loud, banging mechanical clanks punctuated by the crash of bowling pins. You'll be provided hearing protection under OSHA, but you can't actually wear it because you need to be listening to a radio at all times.

EDIT: Why'd I get downvoted for this? It's all literally true. The terminology of "answering calls" exists for a reason -- they call you on the radio. Most places will drop you in a heartbeat if you can't reliably pick up when the cranky-ass front house managers start shouting your name.

HighWizardOrren4 karma

This is the best answer here, and very accurate. I'll probably have hearing damage later in life, but fortunately the shop is separated from the machine area by a heavy door, so I get to dodge the worst of the noise when I'm not actively working on something.

The best solution I've found is it have an earpiece attached to my radio, and then wear earmuffs over it. I don't do that often, though.

leftopenfiredoor6 karma

Former pinsetter mechanic here! Once I was oiling the lane and noticed it was much harder than normal. Turns out, someone put a Cotter pin upside down, which caused it to dig into the lane. Boss wasn't mad at me but obviously wasn't happy about the situation.

What's a big mistake someone has caused at your location?

HighWizardOrren3 karma

When I was a much greener mechanic, I used a sledgehammer to get the deck holding hook off when trying to drop the deck to clear a jam. The deck did drop... very quickly, all the way to the floor, about an inch from my foot. I snapped the hook in half.

Not at my location, but when we started reopening after the lockdown, at least once center caught on fire when they started up all the motors that had sat idle for 13 months. Fortunately they were extinguished quickly and nobody was injured.

fliedcheecan5 karma

Have you ever watched the Constantine movie? Is that an accurate depiction of the back area behind the alley?

HighWizardOrren25 karma

I've never seen the movie, but I really should, Constantine seems pretty cool. I looked up the scene on youtube.

Split alleys like that (half the lanes on one side, half on the other) are really uncommon, but I've heard of them before. Apparently the suck for the mechanics, you have to run back and forth between them to catch calls and you usually have to have two sets of tools, one for each side.

The back area behind the lanes looks NOTHING like a real bowling alley. The catwalk wouldn't be present anywhere, and those machines are absolutely NOT pinsetters. They're just kind of spinning constantly and doing nothing.

The scene looks very cool and I love it, but it's pretty much the worst depiction of the back of a bowling alley I've ever seen.

As a bit of practical trivia: a real bowling sits idle for a large majority of its time. Some parts always turn (ball and pin elevators, various belts), but the gearbox only activates to lower/raise the deck after you've thrown a ball. The rest of the time clutches disengage and let the machine sit still until motion is needed.

NashMustard5 karma

Do you have a collection of Christian artifacts stashed behind the lanes a la Constantine?

Your cat is so adorable!

HighWizardOrren3 karma

No, but we have a little spot where we put all the arcade toys and knick-knacks we find underneath the lanes.

He is a good cat and I love him very much :3

old_man_curmudgeon5 karma

On a scale from 1-10, how dangerous is this stunt?

HighWizardOrren5 karma

The first one looks like someone just running in and going for it, but at least he's wearing a helmet, so he has some protection. Still might crack like an egg under the weight of the deck. 8-9/10.

Second clip, you can see a guy with a camera behind the lane. The curtain has been lifted up to let him get the shot. There's 100% a mechanic back there ready to turn the lane off. 4/10.

meagski3 karma

Have you ever put your head in the Shine-o ball-o?

HighWizardOrren6 karma

We used to have one of those, and I'm not confident anyone had used it at all in the past decade. But if I did, it would probably have scalped me in a vicious fashion. Not all of us can have Homer's perfect dome.

GeorgeAmberson2 karma

What's the cat's name?

HighWizardOrren5 karma

One-Eyed Willy, named by the shelter after the first Goonie!

He goes by Will.

Working-Complaint5961 karma

Hello ?

HighWizardOrren27 karma


Sorry, what was that call? I'm inside a lane right now and I can barely hear the walkie. Ball return on which lane?

LokiNinja1 karma

How much actual work is that? Do things really breakdown that often that it keeps you busy 40 hours a week?

HighWizardOrren16 karma

It alternates between way too much work all at once and periods of doing nothing.

When all the lanes are running, I can't really go shut things down for maintenance. But I still have to go and clear jams, which happen at a rate of like 15-30/day. That could be a ball jamming in a weird place and not returning, or a pin jamming and preventing the machine from advancing properly, or if I'm very unlucky, a part actually breaking and needing to be replaced.

I work with A2 machines. They were all built in the mid-80s and have been kept running for the past 40+ years, often with poor maintenance. Parts wear out over time. Just yesterday, I found a cracked lower frame (image 6 in the proof album) and spent about 5 hours pulling everything above it out, removing it, building up a replacement, reinstalling it, and putting everything back in place. That replacement didn't even require any adjustment, but other parts will require tolerances to within 1/32".

On a good night, I sit in the back doing basically nothing, getting the occasional ball return. On a bad night, I'm running back and forth all over the lanes returning balls and clearing jams all night while I try to rebuild a broken part in the shop on my downtime.

ITehJelleh0 karma

do you really have enough work to keep you busy 8 hours a day?

HighWizardOrren11 karma

Absolutely. There are lane jams all the time, and you need someone who actually knows what they're doing to clear them. The rest of the time is spent servicing lanes that aren't in use (maintenance, upkeep, replacing broken or worn-down parts), or rebuilding parts/assemblies to be installed onto a machine later.

Or sitting in the back on my phone if everything is currently being used and I have nothing to rebuild.