League Started In 1936

BOWLING

County Foursome Remembers Early Days

September 29, 1991|By Donald G. Vitek

Once in a while, things go the right way.

While trying to verify what bowling league is the oldest in the county, I was lucky enough to have Joe Rineer, owner of the Mount Airy Lanes, assemble four people who know all about the oldest league.

Known affectionately to all -- as Mr. Wil, Ham, Zeke and Frog -- the foursome knew not only about the league, but also when and where it started.

Wilfred Fleming is know as Mr. Wil to generations of bowlers in Mount Airy.

He started bowling in the county's oldest Men's Industrial League in 1945 -- it had already been around for yearsby then -- and still bowls in that league today.

"I have some good days," Fleming says. "And I have some bad days."

Joe Rineer, though, says, "Mr. Wil is a model bowler, smooth and easy."

Fleming still carries a 124 average and has a high game of 180 with a high series of 486. He bowls in three leagues at the Mount Airy Lanes, subs in a fourth and can handle any problem that comes up at the center.

For 38 years, Fleming owned and operated a milk delivery business and sanctioned a team in the oldest league in the county. He still lives in Mount Airy and you'll still find him most days at the bowling center.

Hanford Wagner lives in Mount Airy and is known to everyone as Ham.

Until a heart operation forced him to quit bowling three years ago, Wagner carried a 121 average and had a high game of 197.

That 197 could have been a 200-plus game, but as so often happens induckpins, Wagner picked the front pin off a three-pin spare shot in the last frame. He was one of the first to bowl in the oldest bowlingleague in the county.

Robert H. Watkins -- known to one and all as Zeke -- lives in Largo, Fla., but owned and operated Mount Airy Lanes from 1964 until 1976, when he sold the establishment to Joe Rineer.

"When Joe (Rineer) and I finished signing the papers transferring the business to him, Joe asked if I wanted to take anything with mewhen I left," Watkins recalls. "I said, 'Joe, hand me my checkbook and good luck. I'm on my way to Florida.' "

Before leaving for Florida, Watkins gave all his bowling equipment away. When he was active in duckpins, Watkins carried a 117 average and had a 191 game to his credit.

Robert E. Smith is known as Frog.

"Well, when I was a little boy, my mom and dad would go fishing and I would go hunt for frogs," Smith says. "My daddy started calling me Frog, and it stuck."

Smith operated the Mount Airy Lanes from the time he bought them from his brother Carl in 1945, until Zeke -- er, Watkins -- bought the facility from him in 1964.

Carl Smith had an interesting nickname,too -- Teen.

"His given name was Carl," Robert Smith says. "But because he was small, my dad called him Teenie and then everyone just started calling him Teen. Even when he was mayor of Mount Airy."

Robert Smith carried a 117 average and had a high game of 197 and a high series of 450.

"Don't let the average fool you," Watkins says. "Just don't ever bet a much as a nickel if you want to keep it."

Carl Smith was running a grocery store back in 1935 during the Great Depression when he decided to build a bowling establishment.

"I have no idea why," Robert Smith says. "I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time."

So in 1935, Teen -- er, Carl Smith -- put in four duckpin lanes.

They were the first lanes in Carroll County and they occupied the space where Small Wonder Too, a childrens clothing store, is now located on North Main Street.

And in those days they were called alleys, not bowling centers, and the pins were of solid maple and set by hand.

"I remember that my brother charged 15 cents a game and I got 1 cent per game for setting pins," Robert Smith said.

Watkins continues: "I was getting 35 cents a line in 1964. In 1965, when I put in automatic pinsetters, I charged another 5 centsper line. When Joe (Rineer) bought the center in the 1976, I was getting 65 cents per line."

Robert Smith picks up the story.

"In the 1961-1962 season, the charge for the three games and the prize money for the Men's Industrial Bowling league was $1.80, total," he says.

The Men's Industrial Bowling League started in 1936, just a few months after the lanes opened. It has the distinction of being the oldest league in the county that started on the first bowling lanes in the county.

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