Jim Fowble, 64, has been the owner and operator of Cressmoor Lanes in Hobart, Ind., since 1985. | Jeff Manes~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:13AM
“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
— from the movie “The Big
Except for a stint in Vietnam, Jim Fowble has lived in Hobart his entire life. Today, he lives in the Deep River area on 73rd Avenue with his wife, Sue. They’ve been married 40 years and have raised one adult son, David.
Fowble, 64, is the owner-operator of Cressmoor Lanes in Hobart.
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“My dad owned a TV repair and record shop on the corner of 3rd and Center,” Fowble began. “Across the street was the old Hobart Lanes down in the basement. I’d save up pop bottles to get enough money to bowl. I got hooked on the game.”
What time frame are we talking?
“About ’59, ’60. I started working at the bowling alley in 1961 when I was 13.”
What was your job?
“Setting pins by hand. Actually, we had what was called a semi-automatic pin setter. The bowler would throw the ball and you’d go down there and manually pick up their ball, set it on a track, and send it back to them. Then, you’d pick up the dead wood — the pins that are laying there — and throw them in a rack. When you got 10 pins in there, you’d pull a cord and the deck would come down and set them up.”
Interesting. Did anyone ever throw a ball while you were in the line of fire?
“Yes, but more than that you used to get hit by pins while sitting between two lanes.”
Our mutual friend, Indiana University Northwest professor emeritus James Lane, told me he’s reading a book about bowling alleys back in the 1950s and before. According to the author, bowling alleys were shadowy places frequented by men. Then, with the invention of the automatic pin setter, entire families began bowling.
Is Jimbo Lane a good bowler?
“You might want to shut off that tape recorder. He tries.”
How did you meet your wife?
“In the basement of the old Hobart Lanes; we bowled junior league together. After they built the new place out on Indiana 130 in ’62 or ’63, Sue got a job at the snack bar. After I got out of Vietnam, I worked there for 14 years before coming here.”
Does Sue still bowl?
“Oh, yeah. She’s two years older than I am and still averages in the 180s.”
Care to talk about your time in the service?
“I was a grunt in the infantry. I carried a machine gun most of the time. Half of ’69 and half of ’70, I was in ’Nam. That was quite a 12-month period.”
Did you get hit?
“No, I was fortunate. A lot of guys around me got hit and killed.”
What were your duties at Hobart Lanes during those 14 years after the war?
“I was a lane man and a mechanic. I also started a pro shop there after I was off the tour.”
The Pro Bowlers Tour?
“Yeah, one of the guys at Hobart Lanes offered to put me on the tour. We bought a motor home and he gave me a credit card. He gave me $300 a week to go bowl.”
“For two years, my wife and I toured. We had a great time. I was a middle-of-the-road thrower. I wasn’t at the top or the bottom — you can’t make a living doing that. You need to be in the top five percent.”
What’s your highest average for a season?
“That would be 236 about seven or eight years ago. More than 20 years ago, I averaged 231 in Hammond. That was a lot tougher to accomplish. The game isn’t the same. Equipment and lane conditions are better today. My son is averaging 239 this year.”
Lane conditions on the tour during the ’70s?
“Much tougher than your average league conditions. You can actually steer the ball with the oil. I can make the lanes very difficult or very easy. League bowlers want to score as high as possible. It’s better to have happy customers.”
Do you throw a hook?
“Oh, yeah. Most of your good bowlers throw a hook. With that said, I have one bowler here who throws a backup ball and averages 225.”
Have you ever picked up a 7-10 split?
“No, I have not. I don’t throw the ball hard enough to do that.”
How many 300s have you tossed?
“I’ve had 56 300 games. It’s more difficult to throw an 800-series than a 300 game.”
“I have the best women’s league in the area. There’s one girl who averages close to 230.”
Could she go pro?
“Yes, she probably could, but there’s not much on the woman’s pro tour anymore. That association has kind of dwindled down. It’s tough for a good woman bowler to make a living.”
You’ve surely rubbed elbows with some of the all-time greats.
“Oh, yeah. I bowled in the Earl Anthony era. I’ve bowled against Earl numerous times. I bowled with Marshall Holman who I think was bowler of the year in ’89. He was a friend of mine; we toured together. We’ve stayed at each other’s houses. We were rookies together.”
What was the guy’s name who was not only a great professional bowler, but also a world-class horseshoe pitcher?
“Walter Ray Williams. He was coming into the tour about the time I was going out.”
The famous father-son pro bowlers?
“The Webers. I bowled with Pete’s father, Dick.”
Some of the big cities you competed in?
“Las Vegas, Miami, Akron, Houston ... .”
Did you ever finish in the money?
“Oh, yeah. I was about a 50 percent casher. In other words, in order to get a check, you had to be in the top one-third that week. That means two-thirds of the guys didn’t get any money back. My best finish was fifth place in a national tournament. That was in Davenport, Iowa in 1976. It was hotter than hell that day. The air conditioner in the bowling alley was broke.”
The competition had to be brutal.
“Like I said, you had to beat two-thirds of the best bowlers in the world to get a check that week.”
Is Cressmoor Lanes a nonsmoking facility?
“Yes, even in the bar because it’s part of the bowling center.”
Has that law hurt business?
“Yes, it has. It’s inconvenient for the bowlers. The smokers are running outside in between frames. People can go down the street to a free-standing bar and smoke, but they can’t smoke here.”
When did you purchase this place?
“In 1985. This bowling alley was built around 1955.”
It was refreshing talking to someone who has made a decent living around the sport he loves.
Jim Fowble, a man who survived a tour of duty overseas and was talented enough to be part of another tour here in the United States.