PAPERBOYS AND PINSETTERS
by Ann Angel Eberhardt
While writing about my brother, Mike, and his treehouse, I was reminded of two typical 1950s jobs he had while in high school: paperboys and pinsetters. Traditionally for boys only, those jobs put a little extra change in their pockets and taught them the fundamentals of the working world, whether they liked them or not.
PAPERBOYS: “Read all about it!”
In the latter half of the 1950s, my brother Mike delivered “The Sharon Herald” daily newspaper door to door in Sharpsville, PA. Our dad described Mike’s work in his memoir, Trivia & Me as follows:
Mike was an industrious and outgoing teenager. Shortly after we moved to Sharpsville [c. 1950], he helped a friend with a 50 to 75-customer Sharon Herald newspaper route, learned all the addresses, and took it over when his friend gave it up for a bigger route. At first, the papers were too heavy to carry in a shoulder bag, so Mike pulled them in a wagon. The Thursday edition was the heaviest because it was often printed on 24 to 36 pages or 48 to 56 pages for special sale editions on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, and the Fourth of July. [The Herald was then an afternoon publication.]
At first, each paper was delivered from the sidewalk to the porch on foot, a time-consuming effort involving much running back and forth. In time, Mike became adept enough to fold the paper into itself and throw it accurately to the porch door.
In the summertime, I often accompanied him on the route. When the weather was pleasant and doors were open we would listen to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” [a weekly situation comedy] and other radio programs uninterrupted as we moved from one house to the other. In wintertime, during the cold and snow, we were only interested in getting the papers delivered as quickly as we could.
Saturday was customer pay-up day. Unless a person has ever tried to collect monies for service, he would not believe the number of excuses some customers offered to avoid or delay paying the paperboy his dues. However, Mike was such a good businessman that he encountered only a few non-payers, mostly [those] customers who had moved out-of-town.
Dad was likely very proud of Mike’s newspaper job, remembering his own experience as a young boy in the early 1900s when he peddled papers on a street corner in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper, “The Plain Dealer,” which still exists to this day, sold for 3 cents each, of which 1 penny was his. Hopefully, his son Mike brought home a bit more than that!
PINSETTERS: Beware the Flying Pins!
Pinsetting required even more exertion and dexterity than newspaper delivery. Several evenings a week, Mike could be found at the Thornton Hall, working as the pinboy at the receiving end of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball hit the pins, he cleared the fallen pins and rolled the bowling ball back to the player. At the end of turn player’s turn, he would return all ten pins to their proper places, ready for the next player.
Mike has this incisive memory of his pinboy job: “We were paid 13 cents per line for pin setting. The experience taught me that there must be an easier way to make money.”
One of the pinsetter’s main concerns was to avoid getting smashed by the oncoming bowling ball or flying pins. This was what I remember most from the days that I too reset pins, not as a teenager but as an Allegheny College student taking a women’s physical education course in bowling. The school rented lanes at a local Meadville, PA, bowling alley, and we students were pressed into service as pingirls. In order to set up all the pins for the next player, we used a treadle that we pushed with our foot, causing 10 pins to raise up. We would then set the bowling pins down on the pins, release the treadle, and the pins were in position for the next player. When that bowling ball came roaring toward us, we were sure to jump up and perch on a platform on either side of the lane, out of the way of the collision below.
The introduction of the mechanical bowling pinsetters and their prevalence in bowling alleys by the 1960s did away with the job of pinsetting. In this case, automation was a godsend. Not only did automatic pinsetters allow for faster games, but more importantly, they eliminated the dangers inherent in pinsetting by teenage boys and sometimes girls!
“The Sharon Herald” has been known as “The Herald” since 1970, having dropped “Sharon” from its nameplate to reflect wider distribution in the Shenango Valley, Mercer County, and several adjacent towns. The newspaper, still going strong in print and now online, has been a morning paper since 2002 and is published every day except Christmas Day.
Thornton Hall still stands on the corner of Thornton Street and Hall Avenue, just across the border between Sharpsville and Sharon, PA. According to its Facebook page, Thornton Hall still has a bowling alley. (The drug store and roller-skating rink in the same building that we 1950s-60s teenagers would frequent appear to no longer exist.) Although the alley still hands out paper score sheets on which players do their own scoring, I doubt that it still has human pinsetters. And I’m pretty sure that, if bowling classes were still offered at Allegheny College, pinsetting duty would no longer be required.
Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), March 2017, with help from Mike Angel (SHS 1960).
Excerpt from “Trivia & Me,” page 118, an autobiography written by August Angel.