As I sit in the back of another bowling center, maintaining lanes for another tournament, I have been thinking about that famous line above, partially because I have already heard it at least once today.
There are so many stories…some funny, not so funny, and some downright scary if you were in my shoes. I thought a glimpse of what we do behind the scenes could be an eye opener for many. Making things run smooth through chaos can be our biggest attribute sometimes.
Pictured right is the author, Doug Dukes. Doug has been in the bowling industry since 1998 and worked as Pro Shop Owner and Operator before moving onto the mechanical side of the business. From there, he took on a management role and ran his local bowling center for 10 years before joining Kegel. Through his membership in the Mechanics Guild, an educationally focused organization, Dukes is able to share his extensive knowledge of pinsetter mechanics. Doug brings a great blend of lane maintenance and pinsetter experience along with a unique coaching background.
The tournament I am currently at is a great example of the time put in outside of actually running lanes. Starting with a flight across the Atlantic and getting off the plane as first light breaks in Europe, which can be OK for those that can sleep on planes.
My mind before an event however, runs 100 MPH, so that never happens. Explaining the Lane Mapper to the agent withholding it in luggage was easy THIS trip…first hurdle.
After arriving at the bowling center and plugging in my batteries for the mapper, I realize the charger isn’t working. The adapter that I brought is not converting voltage properly, so a quick google search of local hardware stores and off I go, many Euro’s later, we are in business.
I finished mapping half the house around 4pm local time, just in time to head back to the hotel to find there was a new windows update pushed out that wouldn’t allow the PDA from the mapper to connect to the computer.
Hacking windows registries until almost midnight and that problem is solved. The bowlers will be happy; they can have their lane map, barring nothing else tries to get in my way.
Arriving the following morning, or same morning if you like semantics, the mapping is finished. Setup the machines, run all the tests and calibrations, study the maps, pick a pattern. Out by 5:00pm, it’s a good day!!!!
Once the tournament starts, it’s the normal day to day obstacles, bowlers take more time than anticipated and we run two machines and catch things up so squads start on time. In 11 days I will be back in the US to start all over again. No rest for the weary.
Thinking of previous events as well, it’s normally not the machines that we deal with when we have problems. I remember going to a major event and doing a test clean on the first set of lanes for testing. I honestly thought something was wrong with my machine. I ran the second machine I had with me and saw the lanes had the same look as the first I did a strip only on.
At first I thought the lanes had a delamination problem, but upon further inspection, there was a film on the lanes from 10-10 that I couldn’t pull up. I scratched it with my finger nail and was able to remove it, but the lane machine would not. Running down the list of things to do. I tried straight cleaner with a rag by hand, that didn’t work. IPA with a rag by hand, two strikes. I don’t like to strike out, so it was time to call the chemical engineer back at the office!
After a few pictures, and a lengthy conversation, she asks me to grab some vinegar from the snack bar. We let it sit on the lane for a few minutes and to my surprise, the film came right off. This means I needed a mild acid based cleaner to clean the lanes and remove the film.
Not wanting to hurt the lane bed itself, we found a cleaner that would work from a local hardware store with a little more “potency”, and another problem is solved for the day. Granted I returned to the hotel smelling like a fresh pickle from using the vinegar as a test, but the bowlers would be happy at the end of the day so it was worth the trouble.
During the PWBA tour, I was at an event with one of the most attentive staff I had worked with in quite some time, which saved me from a disaster believe it or not.
We had been charging the machines on the far side of the building for testing, and the first day of open practice. No issues all week and it was smooth sailing. I walk into the center after going to get breakfast and one of the staff pulls me aside and says they had moved some things around for my machines.
Apparently, they had some electrical work done earlier in the year for a renovation, and the water heater on the OTHER side of the building was tied to the outlet I had plugged my machines into. They never knew it, nor did I, and it hadn’t been an issue until the center was full of people going to the bathroom and washing their hands making the water heater turn on and ultimately tripping the breaker I had my machines plugged into.
They happen to notice that the lights on my charger had gone out and started to investigate on their own. I guess their attentiveness was good on three fronts. They know what the water heater is linked to, people had hot water to wash their hands, and my machines got charged and didn’t die 4 lanes before I finished in the middle of a tournament. Kudos to them for saving me on that one.
What came out that example was a lesson learned, and I now carry a tester for loads and outlets that I use when I go to bowling centers. I had to laugh out loud as I typed that last line.
A little known fact is a lot of the upgrades or changes that happen to machines come from the fact that we experience things in the field and want to make them better for the end user.
Automatic shut offs after a certain period of time on battery operated machines, suction cups on drip pads, redesigns of certain parts, and numerous software changes based on scenarios we encounter just to name a few.
Lastly, as most know, Kegel provides lane maintenance for a multitude of tournaments, but JR Gold is the most brutal workout a lane technician can go through.
No problems have occurred at this event over the years that are worth writing about, but just to give you an idea of the schedule we maintain; seven days of up at 3:30am, pushing the button by 4:30am, and staying at the bowl until 8:30pm through multiple re-oils.
We provided 4 of the 8 lane technicians, 16 brand new machines, did almost 14,000 lanes, and we also provided and went through over 50 cases of oil and cleaner. This is equivalent to what a 40 lane bowling center does in 1 year in a week!!!
Not to mention the 200+ lane tapes that were read over the course of the week.
Even through all of this, we answer questions for customers that may be at the centers with their children, do our paperwork and answer emails between squads; it is truly non-stop for a solid week. We would not however, have it any other way.
I can only hope that this small glimpse of what one lane technician has experienced over the years, will allow you to appreciate what we do. When my career is over, I could probably write a tell-all book that wouldn’t sell more than 10 copies but would be 200 pages long and one heck of a funny read for anyone in the business.
It all leads to one bottom line, we take pride in what we do, the builders in manufacturing take pride in what they do, and at the end of the day we all try to make things look seamless.
Hearing the statement “you just push the button” is actually a compliment. If you walk into the bowling center and see me wrapping up lanes for a tournament and you can say, “You have it made, all you have to do is push a button”, then I have done my job well.