REO Town (as the area south of Lansing’s downtown is known by the locals):
We were in REO Town to drop off a contribution to one of the local businesses that recently experienced a robbery. Afterwards, we strolled down to a coffee shop in one of the old, rehabbed buildings. On the way back to our car after enjoying our coffees, we passed a building I had known in the early 1950s as the Lansing Recreation Center, a popular bowling establishment with “23 deluxe Brunswick alleys with all the latest equipment.”
As a sixteen-year-old pinsetter, I knew those deluxe Brunswick alleys well, especially the motorized pin racks at the end of each alley. To get to the pin racks where the pinsetting boys were located, you walked the length of a walkway at the far right of the 23 alleys. When you passed through to the back area, the bright lights, colors, and sounds changed to a dirty brown and black hue, with the sound of bowling balls impacting heavy wooden pins to scatter in the pits at the end of the alleys. Each pinsetting boy was responsible for two alleys; an opening between the lanes allowed him to work both lanes and to stand or sit waiting for the bowler to throw another ball. When a bowling ball struck the pins, they fell, rolled, spun, and hit a heavy padded leather back-wall and settled at the bottom of the pit. Pinsetters first removed the bowling ball from the pile, sending it back on the ball return track. Next, the heavy wooden pins needed to be picked up (two in each hand) and racked in the mechanical pinsetter rack. When the pins were ready to set, a cord attached to the motor was pulled. The rack dropped and the pins turned, in a clatter of wood against metal. When the motor returned the rack, the pins set vertical, and from the lane behind you came the sound of another bowling ball making contact with pins.
It was hard work, and I remember my first pay: six dollars folded in a small yellow rectangular envelope. My mother and father picked me up at the bowling alley, I got into the back seat of the car, and my mother took the envelope. “You need a new pair of shoes. You know your dad works hard to support the family, it’s time you bought your own clothes.” But Ma! I started to say. Of course, there was no sass back to Ma; it was just another one of those “But Ma!” life lessons you need to learn before you are on your own. I did buy a new pair of shoes, and more.
The Lansing Recreation Center was just a few blocks north of the REO (Ransom Eli Olds) Motors industrial site, where one of my aunts worked on the REO lawnmower assembly line, and a few blocks in front of the Lansing Recreation Center was the Oldsmobile industrial site where my father, and later two of my brothers worked.
Now over sixty years later, not much of the Lansing Recreation Center is left. The large bowling pin sign is gone, the REO Motors site was demolished by the 1980s, and much of the Oldsmobile industrial site was razed and replaced with a General Motors Cadillac plant. REO Town for me today is only memories.
Vern Mesler 2021