Pin setter

I’m Certain Laverne Defazio Never Had to Wonder Like I Do.

Last week we were in Milwaukee, visiting our younger son. Always on the hunt for fun activities to do with the boys when we are together, I was thrilled to find a place that offered mini bowling. Jim and Jason were up for it so we headed out. Mini bowling is played the same way as traditional bowling, but the pins are smaller and the lanes are more narrow and much shorter. The balls have no finger holes, are similar in size to small coconuts, and come in one weight (about three and a half pounds). Because of the type of balls used, it feels a lot like Skeeball when you play.

What I noticed immediately when we arrived was that there were no automatic pinsetters. You know what I’m talking about: those are the systems that hang right above the bowling pins and, at the end of each frame, drop down to sweep the toppled pins away and send the ball back to the front of the lane through that whooshy thing while setting ten fresh pins for the next player.

At the mini bowling place in Milwaukee, there were actual people stationed at the end of the lanes behind the pins: Manual Pinsetters, as in totally old school.

Sidenote: Just how old school are we talking about? I researched this, of course. The mechanical pinsetter was invented in 1941 and mostly did away with the need to have humans do the work at that time. In other words, on the 70s sitcom “Laverne & Shirley”–which is set in Milwaukee and based in the late 50s through mid 60s–Laverne’s dad owned the Pizza Bowl and would have likely installed mechanical pinsetters. It has been extremely rare for bowling alleys to use manual pinsetters since the invention of the mechanical ones.

So there I was, at the mini bowling place in Milwaukee in April of 2019, standing there completely fascinated with the three teenaged pinsetters who were taking care of two lanes each.

mini bowling

I had questions for them, like:

  1. Do your knees/legs hurt from all of the up and down?
  2. What was the job training like when you started here?
  3. Does pinsetting run in your family?
  4. Do you like this job because you don’t actually have to deal with people in a face-to-face manner?
  5. I see you’re all wearing earbuds. Are you listening to white noise just to get the sound of crashing pins out of your head? Thrasher music because the sound of crashing pins makes you angry? Adult contemporary because you need to relax? Spa music so you can find your Zen? Old time rock and roll because it matches the bowling alley’s era?
  6. Do you get angry when people bowl their frames too quickly?
  7. Do you get angry when people bowl their frames too slowly?
  8. Is a perfect rhythm between the two lanes you manage ever achieved?
  9. What do you do to relax?
  10. Have you lost weight and/or gained muscle tone since you started this job?
  11. Do people tip you well?
  12. Do you get regular headaches?
  13. Do you laugh inside when people manage to miss every single pin or get gutter balls?
  14. Do you have time to chat with each other and compare notes on best practices?
  15. ARE there best practices or is there basically just one way to do this job?
  16. I imagine you get thirsty. Do you get free pop while you work?
  17. What about bathroom breaks? Please tell me you get bathroom breaks.
  18. Do you sometimes fantasize about throwing a ball back down the lane to the player?
  19. Do you have after-work competitions to see who can reset the pins the fastest?
  20. How much of a stickler are you for the perfect pin set?
  21. Do you hear crashing bowling pins in your sleep?
  22. Do you love your job, hate your job, or just tolerate your job?
  23. How much do you love (or hate) silence?
  24. Do you like to bowl, and if so do you bowl where you work or do you go elsewhere, where there are mechanical pinsetters?
  25. Have you ever forgotten to step behind the wooden barrier after setting the pins, resulting in getting hit by a bowling ball?
  26. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen from your spot behind the pins?

I wanted to send my email address and a request for an interview along with my tip down the lane when I put the money in the tennis ball with the slit in it that was created just for that purpose (money sending, not interview requesting), but at the last minute I decided it would be creepy and sent the cash all by itself. To that end I guess we’re all out of luck and we’ll never know the answers to these questions.


Hey, does my readership include anyone who is a Human Pinsetter or knows one? I’d loooooove to talk to you.