CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Fish & Game Club offers its members a place to enjoy the summer months from swim and tennis teams, to summer camps, to paddle leagues during the winter. For at least a decade, however, one attraction has been unused but never forgotten: the bowling alley.
This July, the club officially held the alley’s grand re-opening, featuring manual scorekeeping and pin-setting, the six-lane alley is a charming time capsule.
“The automatic pin-setting machines that we used to have were unreliable and beyond repair,” Callen Breen, president of the club, said. “We knew that if we wanted to reactivate the alley, removing them would be the first step.”
Starting roughly a year ago, a group of motivated volunteers - Pablo Mannino, Dan Handerhan, Patrick Florentino, J.P. Byrne and Jack Crowley - would meet on most Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. to help remove the heavy equipment.
“In three months, 9,000 pounds of steel from the machines were removed and recycled,” Breen said.
Along with help from Dan Handerhan, Daniel Hoffman and Connor Breen, he designed and constructed safety bumpers to replace the machines on all six lanes.
“The design is simple, easy to operate and built to last,” Breen said. “They work similar to a see-saw. After the player bowls, the safety bumper is simply tilted forward by the pinsetter, landing softly on the lane and acting as a solid barrier. The pinsetter steps in to reset or clear pins and returns the bowling ball via a track. A unique safety cone procedure is also utilized to allow the bowler to communicate with the pinsetter. Once they are done, the pinsetter simply steps out and uses a short rope to raise the safety bumper so the bowler can go again.”
Breen was inspired to find a way to restore the bowling lanes because of the long history of the Fish & Game Club.
“It’s a project I’ve always wanted to take on ever since they were closed," Breen said. "Bowling has been a historical part of Fish & Game since the clubhouse was rebuilt with alleys back in the ’60s. Also, with manual pinsetters, the club now has another opportunity to employ staff. “Our end-goal is to have the bowling alley be a standard part of the club’s operations. We’d love to have routine couples' nights, women’s and men’s nights, family nights, even a club bowling team or league would be awesome. Eventually, people could rent the alley out for parties too."
“One of the things I love about this club is the culture of fun it represents. One of the main themes of my presidency is the concept that Fish & Game is a local shared vacation-recreation home for our members. If something in the club needs changing, members are open to volunteer their time and effort to help make it happen. Aside from the extensive re-painting of the bowling alley, he pointed out, the reconstruction of the bowling alley was done largely through eager volunteer work. The Board was extremely supportive, members are excited that the lanes are coming back and we’re just as excited to provide them.”