Four Lanes: The Fischer Bowling Club facility consists of four lanes, which look similar to any other bowling alley except for one difference; there are no pins set in any of the lanes. This photo was taken before bowling began and the pin setters had not yet set the pins. The pin setters are not electronic but the task is handled manually by local teens employed by the club. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com
By GARY WARREN
Formerly of Los Alamos
Interstate 35, one of the busiest Interstates in Texas, passes through Comal County on the eastern side of the county. Growth and development is rampant in this part of Texas between San Antonio and Austin.
A few miles to the west of the Interstate on the winding backroads of Comal County life is a little different. The western portion of the county has grown as well but it remains rural. There are some small German communities that look much the same as 100 years ago. One of those small communities is Fischer.
The hill country of Texas, which includes Comal County, was settled by Germans in the 1800s and the area retains many German traits and cultures today. This is especially true in some of the small communities such as Fischer.
In the late 1800s, Fischer Hall was constructed for gatherings and events for the local residents and in 1897 a bowling alley was built next to the hall. For more than 100 years the Fischer Bowling Club has enjoyed the facility, which was only one lane under an open air structure. Years later, the facility was expanded to three lanes.
In the 1960s another expansion took place and the Fischer Bowling Club was enlarged to four lanes and the structure enclosed. Air conditioning was added shortly after the expansion.
What makes the Fischer Bowling Club unique is it is a nine pin bowling club rather than the traditional 10 pin, which is standard in the U.S. The Germans brought their version of bowling to Texas in the 1800s and it remains popular today in this area of the state.
A three county area in the Texas hill country is the only place in the U.S. where nine pin bowling exists. The pins are arranged in a diamond pattern instead of the triangle pattern we are accustomed to seeing in the U.S.
There are 18 of these small clubs in a three county area that bowl nine pin. Nine pin bowling is played much differently than standard bowling as well. The object is to strike down all of the pins except for the red center pin, or king pin, for 12 points. If all pins fall the bowler is awarded nine points. If fewer pins fall no points are rewarded.
Nine pin is also a team sport rather than an individual sport in traditional 10 pin bowling. There are six players per team and the game is played for six frames rather than 10 frames. Each player on the team bowls two balls to attempt to score. If there is no score the next team member inherits the pins remaining from the previous bowler. If the team has not scored the nine or 12 points by the sixth bowler, the pins are counted after the last ball is rolled by the sixth team member and that is the score for the frame.
There are no electronic scores like traditional bowling, the teams keep score manually on a chalkboard for each bowler on the team.
Another major difference in nine and ten ball bowling is there are no electronic pin set up machines for nine pin bowling. The pins are set manually by teens paid to set up the pins. This was also an interesting aspect of the game since I hadn’t witnessed manual pin set up in bowling.
I am not a bowler but I have bowled for fun several times and found the nine pin game to be very different and more difficult to follow at first but after watching a few frames it became easier and more interesting. The manual pin setters were also an interesting visual compared to pin setting machines.
We found out about this unique method of bowling from my sister who lives just a few miles from Fischer. She is not a bowler but was familiar with the clubs who bowled nine pin in the area. I didn’t really know what to expect but after spending a couple of hours watching and talking to the bowlers, I learned a lot and became intrigued by their game. These folks love nine pin bowling and the comradery between team members and members of others who they bowl against.
Editor’s note: Longtime Los Alamos photographer Gary Warren and his wife Marilyn are traveling around the country, and he shares his photographs, which appear in the “Posts from the Road” series published in the Sunday edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post.
Nine Pins: The arrangement of the pins in nine pin bowling is in the shape of a diamond. This plaque, which is on the exterior of the facility best illustrates the set up. The diamond consists of eight outer pins and a red center pin known as the king pin. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com
Nine Pin Bowler: A bowler rolls the ball in an attempt to complete the set. The red king pin has already fallen so the maximum number of points possible is nine. With only nine pins in a diamond configuration, bowlers are faced with more splits as seen in this photo because the pins are spaced farther apart when set up than in traditional 10 pin bowling. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com
Pin Setters: The pins are set and the two pin setters wait for the first bowlers to begin. The two teens manually reset the pins for the bowlers and are paid to set the pins during the games. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com
Team Bowling: Nine pin bowling is a team sport consisting of six bowlers per team. The bowlers meet multiple times per week to bowl and socialize with their fellow bowlers. There are 18 nine pin clubs in a three county area of the Texas hill country. This is the only place in the country where nine pin bowling exists. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com