PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you haven't been bowling in Punxsy for a while, you might want to take a trip down to Groundhog Lanes on Pine Street in Punxsutawney, where owner Tim Lowmaster has just completed a major renovation with brand-new state-of-the-art Brunswick pinsetters.
"I've just begun my 13th year of owning Groundhog Lanes; I purchased it in July, 2000," said Lowmaster.
Lowmaster said early on, he had to upgrade the facility, starting with the furnaces that were located on the main concourse and were not very energy efficient.
"There was a tag on one of them that said 1965," he said.
Lowmaster said that, originally, the business was called Findley Lanes, and the entrance was on the Findley side of the building. Back then, the bowlers had to park in the old A&P parking lot on North Findley Street.
He said he purchased the lanes from Eddie Vanderpool, who owned it together with Brian Setree, who rescued it from the previous owner in 1990 and 1991 after the lanes had been padlocked due to a tax issue.
Vanderpool owned it himself for a while and then came to a point where he had to decide whether or not he was going to run his used car business or the bowling alley, Lowmaster said, adding that he's not completely sure how many owners there have been of the popular bowling alley.
"My late father, Dick Lowmaster, was the bowler in the family," Tim said.
"He basically bowled here from the time the doors opened in 1960 or 1961," he said. "He did all kinds of improvements to the facility, including constructing wooden bowling lockers."
Lowmaster said that most bowling lanes are going with synthetic lanes, eliminating the old wooden-style lanes similar to the ones at Groundhog Lanes.
"I did change the pin decks to synthetic eight years ago, because the old ones had times when the pins wouldn't stand up on them," Lowmaster said, adding that when the pins spun, they were burning holes in the pin decks.
He said the lanes and the approaches are still made of wood — hard maple and pine — and if you look at the pin deck, you'll see that it is synthetic and is attached to the wooden lanes.
Lowmaster said he recently had the lanes resurfaced, which involves buffing off the old finish, called a screen and cote.
"The contractor comes in with screens and sands everything and roughs it up. Then, he or she puts the coating back down, which dries hard and seals the lanes," he said.
Lowmaster said his staff has to oil the lanes every day before people bowl on them.
The coating keeps the oil from seeping down into the wood, he said.
The AMF pinsetters were the original model pinsetters that were first installed in 1960, but they were replaced at one point, Lowmaster said, adding that AMF set up the pinsetters and there were meters on them. AMF had a contract and would maintain the pinsetters and perform maintenance on them.
"Like rent to own, AMF would maintain the pinsetters for a number of years, and at the end, you could buy them out," he said.
Lowmaster said one of the former owners purchased similar pinsetters from a bowling alley that burned down and returned the original pinsetters to AMF.
"No matter what we were looking at, the AMF pinsetters were at least 45 years old," Lowmaster said.
"The reason we purchased new Brunswick pinsetters over the AMF pinsetters is because I haven't had any contact with an AMF representative in over 10 years," he said.
Lowmaster said he did receive some assistance from Vanderpool and Bob Fisher.
"It was like me walking into a nuclear power plant when I took over the bowling alley," Lowmaster said, adding that he had to rely on other people who knew about the equipment for advice on what to do.
"You could see that the AMF pinsetters had been taken out of a fire and that some of the wiring was beginning to break down," he said.
Lowmaster said the old machines were electro-mechanical, and once, there was trouble with the wiring. They had nightmares attempting to chase the problem.
The manuals did not match up with the wiring schemes, he said.
"I can only remember two instances where I had two machines where I didn't finish the night with," Lowmaster said, adding that the new pinsetters are all computer-driven and are solid state.
"There's a processing board in every machine, which senses everything that is going on," he said. "If it senses a malfunction it gives you an error code, and you have an idea where to go look for the problem.
"When the old machines stopped, they stopped; it was up to us to go and figure out where the problem was located," Lowmaster said.
He said the new pinsetters are an investment which will allow Groundhog Lanes to be up and running for another 25 years.
Lowmaster said last year he had to keep a person behind the pinsetters in case there was a problem.
"We probably averaged in a course of a men's shift in two and half hours 15 to 20 calls to adjust something, and the pins didn't always feed right," Lowmaster said, adding that since the new season began, he's averaging just one call per shift.
"These calls are because a ball was stuck in a ball return," he said.
Lowmaster said he also replaced the ball returns because old ones couldn't handle the new, high-tech bowling balls.
"Right now, from an equipment standpoint, I'm brand new," he said.
Lowmaster said he does have bowlers during open bowling ask him about computerized scoring.
"Most of our league people prefer manual scoring; I'm one of the last houses that doesn't have computerized scoring," he said.
Lowmaster said with automatic scoring, when you come to the end of a game in a league, you can't start the next game until it is all totaled.
With manual scoring, you can start bowling the next game without having to calculate the score.
He said eventually, he'll have to put in synthetic lanes — within 10 years.
Lowmaster said the new masking units in front of the pinsetters will glow, too, during glow bowling when they turn all of the lights off and just have the black lights turned on.
He said that usually happens Fridays between 9 and 11 p.m.