“He’d been going to that bowling alley for decades — as a student, as a coach and as a family man — but early Tuesday, he watched that part of his life be devoured by flames.
“I’ve been telling people we’ve lost a good friend,” Jim Braet, Rock Island High School’s bowling coach, said Tuesday afternoon.
That friend was the Town and Country Bowling Lanes, 3636 11th St., Rock Island. Fire was discovered at the sprawling, one-story building around midnight Tuesday, fire officials said. By the time firefighters arrived, the flames were already visible.
By sunrise, all that was left of the alley that had served generations of bowlers was a gutted wreck. Investigators still trying to determine the cause and origin Tuesday reported no one was injured.
Mr. Braet said he has coached Rocky’s girls in the nuances of the sport for more than three decades. They trained at Town and Country, and some of their matches were there.
Now, those things will be done at a Milan bowling alley for the time being, he said.
Mr. Braet said he also bowled in Town and Country’s leagues. His family had birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations there.
When he heard of the fire, Mr. Braet said he went to Town and Country in time to see fire breaking through the roof and the walls.
“It will certainly be missed,” he said.
Frank Miroballi, the owner of the alley since 2004, was not in town at the time of the fire. He returned late Tuesday morning and, standing in the parking lot, said he intends to rebuild. He put a lot into the bowling alley after he bought it, he said.
“We were doing fine here,” he said. “It was a profitable business.”
Mr. Miroballi said he hopes to make the bowling alley bigger, better and more modern.
“We’ll keep going,” he said.
Others whose lives often led them to Town and Country also gathered in the parking lot Tuesday morning, taking in the disaster. In many places, the roof and walls had collapsed. Glass in windows and doors had been either blown out by the fire or broken by firefighters as they battled the flames.
Where the interior was visible, the incomprehensible, blackened debris that is the signature of a big fire bulked up in the shadows. Occasionally the lines of the shapeless mess were broken by something recognizable — a chair or a vending machine.
Here and there, fires still burned in the wreckage.
Around the south and west sides of the building were piles of rubble. Beyond them, filling parts of an empty lot adjacent to the bowling alley, was a vast ankle-deep watery pool left from the fire fighting efforts.
Where once there had been laughter and the thunder of the lanes, there was now only a thin shroud of smoke and the stink of burning that made throats and nostrils sore.
The onlookers — workers, patrons and others– took it all in quietly. They spoke amongst themselves. They embraced. Some cried. Others took pictures with cameras or cellular phone.
Among them was Krista Thiem, 30, who said some people just thought Town and Country was just a bowling alley.
“People don’t get it,” she said, surveying a particular spot in the wreckage.
The area where she was looking at had been the site of her husband, Doug’s, pro bowling shop, she said. Before it was his, the shop had belonged to Rick, Doug’s father and an excellent bowler.
Rick Thiem died a few years ago.
The shop’s merchandise, its records and much of Rick Thiem’s history may have been destroyed in the blaze.
“All of his plaques,” she said, “all of his memorabilia.”
Others, including some of Mr. Braet’s team, had stored their gear in the building. It, too, may be lost.”
-The Rock Island Argus
December 21, 2010