Setting pins in South Dakota
My official career as a working man (boy) began 58 years ago at the young age of 8. While lying in bed one sleepless evening, I revisited all the places I had worked and the types of jobs I did. Try this sometime. You may be amazed at how long or short your job list may be.
In 1954 my family moved five blocks up the hill from the banks of the Missouri River at Chamberlain, South Dakota. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had big plans to build a dam that would turn the Big Muddy into a giant lake. We could either stay where we were in town and begin a new life underwater or accept a mediocre offer to relocate our house. We chose to sell the house and build a new one just up the street from the town’s bowling alley.
Although the river changed, my Huck Finn life was far from over. I simply had to walk a little farther to fish and ride homemade rafts on an inlet called the American Creek. My new life and first job was about to begin.
I began hanging out at the bowling alley and rather than making a nuisance of myself for 90-year-old owner Axel Soderstrom, I began my first career as a pinsetter. I would get to bowl a line for every game I worked in the pits setting pins. It wasn’t long before I joined the regular pinsetters' gang working league games, five days a week. At 10 cents a line, five lines per game, and three games per team, I was taking home a buck-fifty a night. That was pretty big-time money in the days when candy bars and soda pop were a nickel and the movies cost a dime. I always had jingle in my pockets.
Every Christmas, old Axel would call in each pinsetter separately and show us a display of boxes of candy. Each carton contained 12 candy bars and our bonus for the year was picking out our favorite. The first year I chose a box of Cherry Bing candy bars. They weren’t as much of a bar as they were a crunchy chocolate covered lump of cherry-flavored nougat. I don’t think they even exist anymore and I may have been one customer who helped put them out of business, although back in the day, they were many a kid’s favorite.
I took my box home and snuck them in the house. I knew Mom would take control of them if she had the chance, doling them out one at a time and only when I deserved them. She wasn’t about to let me spoil my appetite for a supper of soggy canned vegetables along with hamburger and potatoes in varying forms.
So I hid the bars until later that night. I was in Seventh Heaven if there was such a place. After my fifth Cherry Bing, I thought I better slow down or there wouldn’t be any left for tomorrow. An 8-year old has yet to develop much in the way of willpower. I figure I had developed none at all after I polished off Cherry Bing number 12 that night. It was a one word experience — sick! It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I ate another Cherry Bing. I’ve never had another one since.
By the way, I found out that they are still making the candy in Sioux City, Iowa; 36 Twin Bings for 21 bucks.