“An association of long standing comes to a close Tuesday when Tom Hauman sateps down as lessee of Rock Island’s Bowladrome. This also might mark the end of bowling facilities at the corner of 7th Avenue and 30th Street.
Bowladrome first opened in October, 1940, in the building that previously housed the Rock Island Brewing Co. The late Andy Voss obtained the brewery building at auction and established Rock Island’s largest bowling center with 20 lanes.
One year later, Hauman was on the scene as an under-aged pin-setter. He stayed around the Bowladrome in various capacities until entering military service in 1948. Upon his discharge five years later, Hauman was hired by Voss as manager of the Bowladrome.
The late Labe Weindruch leased the center in 1959, and Bill Schroeder took over in 1963. During those years, Hauman continued as manager. He became lessee in 1974.
“I’VE DONE every job in this place, and still do,” Hauman said. “I’ve done th lanes, been janitor and the bartender and everything else.”
It’s not that Hauman is ready to retire; he’s only 55. A decline in patronage, especially during the last three seasons, dictated his decision to cease operations. There were just two adult leagues in action during the recently ended season.
“There comes a time when it’s time to get rid of (old things),” he said. “Financially, the Bowladrome has come to that time.”
Rosier days once prevailed. “We used to have lots of leagues, three shifts some days,” Hauman said. “We never had much on Saturday and Sunday because we left those days for open bowling.”
The lanes installed nearly 45 years ago are still in good shape. They still could withstand several additional sandings.
“They are National lanes. I think that company was bought out by AMF,” said Hauman. “The automatic pinspotters were installed by Labe Weindruch in 1959. Those are the original machines still in use.”
Bowladrome stands unique among area establishments in a couple of ways. The ball returns on the first six-teen lanes are not located between the two lanes in each pair. Rather, they are alongside the pair. For example, the ball return for 1 and 2 is left of lane 1 while the return for 3 and 4 is to the right of lane 4.
The second unique aspect of Bowladrome is Hauman’s aversion to dressing the lanes with additional oil in the center, as is the practice in other centers.
“I DON’T believe in it (the center crowning of the lane dressing),” Hauman said. “But if I had to do it over again, I’d probably go along with the rest of the proprietors.”
Hauman’s “flat oil” lane dressing policies played a significant role in the erosion of his customers. Only once did he attempt to dress the lanes for better scores, with results that were quite embarrassing.
A few years ago, Hauman decided he would put more oil in the center of the lanes than along the edges. “I did that to see if it would improve the average of my bowlers,” he recalled, “but I didn’t tell them what I’d done. Most of them rolled the ball down the middle, so they complained that there was too much oil. Their averages went down.”
The biggest embarrassment came shortly thereafter. Ray Sivers, then ABC field representative, dropped in unexpectedly and found the lanes at Bowladrome to be non-compliant to ABC standards. That was the last time Hauman used additional dressing on the lane centers.
During 45 seasons of league play, just one 300 game has been rolled at the Bowladrome – by Bill Lawson in the mid-’50s.
Hauman is one bowler who has mastered Bowladrome’s lanes on occasion.
“I used to average in the 190s, and, up until two years ago, was still in the 180s. All told, I’ve had four 700s, with the latest, a 706, coming just last season,” he said. “I’ve had one 280 game and it seems like dozens of 279s.”
HIDDEN FROM view by the false ceiling over the lanes are three bowling paintings of historical value. These are above the pinspotter masking units.
One portrays an outdoor bowling scene, similar to the Rip Van Winkle story setting. The second has a pre-1910 ball return shown and the third is about “modern” bowling. That would be from about 40 years ago, however.
The fate of these paintings ultimately depends on what happens to the Bowladrome. They might be on display at the National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis at a future date.
Bernard “Pat” Voss, a nephew of the original owner, is not sure what the final disposition of the Bowladrome will be.
“I might be able to find someone else to lease it,” Voss said. “The whole property is for sale.”
Voss recognizes the distinct possibility that the Bowladrome might be sold piece by piece, lane by lane, machine by machine. If that happens the last link to pre-World War II bowling in the Illinois Quad-Cities will pass from the scene. Bowlmor Lanes in Davenport would then by the sole remaining pre-war center in the area.
THE CLOSING of Bowladrome would have an immediate impact on one group of bowlers. These are the men and women students of Augustana College who are enrolled in bowling classes conducted by Barry Bilkey.
Presently, there are about 65 students in Bilkey’s classes. In an earlier session, held last fall, around 40 participated.
Bilkey, in his first year at Augustana, is concerned over the closing of the Bowladrome.
“We can all walk over here,” he said, recognizing that transferring his classes to any other center would require the use of vehicular transportation.
There are literally thousands of bowlers in the area today who have never been inside the Bowldrome’s entrance. One person not included in this number is Dispatch photographer Harry Lamon.
“I bowled the best game of my life here back when I was in high school,” Lamon said as he arrived to take pictures of the dean of Rock Island’s centers, Bowladrome, and its proprietor, Tom Hauman.”
-The Sunday Dispatch
April 28, 1985