The Final Frame
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of being the guest of the Craycraft family at Bruce Lanes. With less than a week until they closed their doors for the final day of business, they took time out of their busy day to talk with me. I wanted to visit the business that has been part of the community for as long as I can remember. The visit was important to not only see it, but to capture photographic images for the future through the lens of my camera. In that way, perhaps generations to come may be able to see and understand what an important part the bowling alley was in our community.
I arrived early and the building was still quiet; there were no sounds of balls rolling down the lanes striking pins. There was no laughter of people enjoying their time together on the lanes. I heard no loud cheers as a ball struck the pins, sending them into the strike zone. The only sound was of an employee preparing the lanes before the day’s bowlers arrived. Since it was announced the lanes were closing, bowlers have traveled from distant homes to play one last sentimental game.
The employee grooming the wooden lanes has done this job many times before. The device he operated has made countless trips back and forth on the maple wood lanes, polishing and oiling them as it goes about its task. The machine could not realize its days were now numbered; the man operating the equipment realized his life was soon to change.
Before long the man and his equipment had once again completed their daily task. From behind the far partition at the end of the lanes a maze of machinery began whirling into action, moving pins into place above each lane. Then in a well choreographed move it precisely sat the pins onto the wooden lane.
The sounds of the equipment coming from behind the partition have been heard on the original lanes for 65 years. As I write these words, I realized the original Bruce Lanes and I are the same age. I can understand how starting another day of work is difficult for the lanes, but as they have for many years they came to life waiting for the first game of the day and not yet ready to retire.
For any of you that grew up in New Martinsville, it is likely you have a memory of Bruce Lanes. It was a good place to hang out and bowl a few games with my friends growing up back in the sixties. Our prom would not be complete without a late night visit by juniors and seniors from the local schools. We really never thought much about the bowling alley back then, after all it had always been there as part of the community.
But, that time is now coming to an end. At one time there were over 700 bowlers on teams back in the 1960s and 1970s. There were men’s and women’s leagues, work place and junior leagues, along with various civic leagues. Hours of enjoyable league play took place each bowling season.
Over the last 65 years the bowling alley has been open approximately 23,400 days. If you figure the bowling alley averages at least 12 hours a day, throw in special play tournaments and midnight bowling; add it all up and you can easily say Bruce Lanes has given over 300,000 hours of entertainment to the community. That is something to be proud of for those who have owned and worked at the business.
Now, the doors that were for so long opened to customers have been closed for the last time. The sign out front that once welcomed bowlers, now announces “Closed”. Piece by piece the contents are being sold and carried away into history. Bruce Lanes and its operations will be dismantled and removed from the community, never to return.
Somehow all this does not take into account that Mike and Keith Craycraft, along with their families, have devoted their lives to maintaining a good family operation at Bruce Lanes. Most of us pass by in our daily lives and see only a local business. But, for the Craycrafts, I believe it will be like losing part of their lives. Family-owned businesses are kept going not only its customers, but by those who work to pay the bills, make payroll, and operate the equipment. They also must strive to maintain an aging building with the passage of the years. Mike and Keith, along with families, have worked endless hours to keep their guests happy and returning season after season. The business also provided jobs for its many dedicated employees over the last six decades.
When they close the doors for that last time, they will have the satisfaction of knowing they were an important part of New Martinsville’s community and history. They were part of our town’s family of businesses. If you haven’t noticed, that family is growing smaller each year. We once had two theaters on Main Street showing movies most every night. In the warm months, you could take your favorite girl to a couple different drive-in theaters in Steelton. There also was a family roller rink that brought joy to skaters year round. Bruce Pool still stands, but now it is silent with no sounds of kids splashing in its waters each summer. Our community has lost many of the places we knew growing up. Some will call it progress; others call it a loss of our town’s family. I’ll let you and history decide what to call the changes to our community.
Thirty years from now someone will say, “At one time there was a bowling alley in Steelton. They say people enjoyed going there and spending time with family and friends.” I hope the images I captured though my camera’s lens will someday show people that there truly was a bowling alley and good people worked hard and built a family business. It may also be said they kept it going for many years to serve the citizens of our community. The picture of Keith and Mike rolling the last frame may be the only way the future will remember a place called Bruce Lanes as we look Through the Lens.