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I Collect/Buy Bowlers.
Some specific bowlers I am looking for include:
How to find a game easily in this document:
This document is organized alphabetically by game type. To
easily find a particular game, use the CTRL-F function of your browser,
and type in part or all of the game's name to search this document.
Bowler Parts and Schematics.
Some specific bowlers I am looking for include:
How to find a game easily in this document: This document is organized alphabetically by game type. To easily find a particular game, use the CTRL-F function of your browser, and type in part or all of the game's name to search this document.
Bowler Parts and Schematics.
During the 1950s bowling was a big American past time. To capitalize on this trend, United invented (and other companies copied) coin operated versions of bowling. These games typically were not in bowling alleys (but sometimes were, for those wanting a quick game of bowling, without shoe rentals!), but were in arcades and corner bars.
The Marriage of Seeburg, United and Williams.
"Shuffle-Alley", in October 1949.
(taken from a October 1949 Empire
Coin Machine advertisement).
An add-on "disappearing pin" unit
was also available (not shown).
This device added mini-pins that
flipped up as the puck hit the
alley rollover switches.
Only three months later (September 1964), Seeburg bought United's game assets. Sam Stern, president of Seeburg's Williams subsidiary, ran the United operation and retain his duties with Williams.
Seeburg began its acquisition strategy in 1958 with the purchase of the Bert Mills Coffee machine. Later purchases included the Lyons cold drink machine, the Bally hot drink machine, the Pic-a-Pack utility vender, the Kinsman Organ Company, the Choice-vend and Cavalier bottle and can drink machines, the Du Grenier cigaret machine, and of course the Williams and United game lines. These acquisitions made Seeburg a full circle manufacturer of coin-operated equipment including jukeboxes, vending machines, and amusement games (pinball, bowlers, etc).
While United has made many types of amusement machines, its bowling games and shuffle alleys have been primarily responsible for its reputation. Williams was strongest in the pinball and baseball machine lines.
Pre-1950 Bowling Innovations.
(Or What's a Good Ball Bowler to Own?)
Chicago Coin (Chicago Coin Machines or CCM, a division of Chicago Dynamics Industries aka CDI) made lots of bowling games. Generally speaking I find CCM games to be of comparible (or even better) quality to United. I like the CCM pinset units much better than United - they reset and retract with more solid motion (United pins "wooble" much more, looking cheap and toyish). This gives CCM ball bowlers a more solid look and play feel. Also the lane step-up on CCM games used four legs instead of United's two legs. This makes assembling a CCM ball bowler easier, and the game is more robust in construction. As a rule, Chicago Coin games were less expensive (retail price when new) than other makers. And hence, the quality of their electrical components was a bit lower. For example, the plastic score motor cams. These are a major problem as the cams like to crack where they attach to the score motor shaft, rendering the game useless. Finding replacements in good condition is difficult too. (But a piece of copper pipe drilled for the lock screw and put over the cracked cam works great for a repair.) Also CCM stepper units are often painted opposed to being zinc plated like United games, so rust can be an issue. But these are minor issues. United games have problems with lane warp and pin "bowties", where CCM games don't have these problems.
As for looks, United's 1957 to 1960 games are hard to beat, and their quality is quite good, probably better than CCM. But from 1961 to 1964, I prefer CCM games for looks and play. Also CCM bowlers are feature rich, with good play action and fun options. And they were less expensive at their release, so there is a good supply of these fun playing CCM ball bowlers out there. Because of this I really like CCM ball bowlers prior to 1965. From 1965 to 1973, none of the bowlers look good! The CCM "lazy susan swivel" score rack cabinet style (used from 1965 CCM Super Sonic to their last EM ball bowler Gold Medal in 1973) and the United/Williams rectangle pinhood games (1963 United Fury to their last ball bowler in 1970) are all basically ugly with bad backglass and cabinet artwork and styling. The pre-1965 CCM games (with 1964 CCM Majestic and CCM Cadillac being the 'end of the line') are great games with nice natural oak trim, handsome looks, and feature-rich games. To me, the 1964 CCM Majestic and 1962 CCM Royal Crown are the big ball bowler for looks, play, features, and repairability. But even the 1965 to 1973 CCM bowlers are good games, maybe not as good looking, but still good games. (I have to admit, the CCM lazy susan head makes repair *way* easier than any United or Bally game.)
Bally bowlers have a number of cosmetic features I just don't personally like as much. For example, the metal pin guard, and general look and styling of their bowlers. They just appear a bit industrial to me. Bally used cheaper hardwoods like Poplar and stained them dark, opposed to United and CCM which used nice Oak and stained it natural (or pickled white) so you could see the grain. There are also some repair issues on Bally games that are not problems on CCM or United bowlers. This includes bad connectors, bad lamp sockets, and bad fuse holders on Ballys (though fuse holders are no big deal as they are easy to replace, but the connectors and lamp sockets are more time consuming.) The lamp sockets and fuse holders can be purchased new and replaced, but it just takes time to replace them. The reason these parts were lower quality was Bally made these components in-house, instead of buying them from companies that specialized in making connectors and sockets. Because of this, Bally lamp sockets, connectors, and fuse holders will often need to be replaced, which makes restoring a Bally bowler generally more work. Finally, the EM logic Bally used for scoring with their "director unit" and mark storage relays can be a bit more difficult to troubleshoot. And many Bally bowlers have the EM modules under the lane, which can cause back pain when repairing. The upside to Bally bowlers is their speed of scoring. United and CCM games often have a "Do Not Bowl When Lit" light. This allows the games to score and cycle between frames. Bally bowlers usually do not have this as they score very fast, allowing the player to bowl as fast as the balls are returned to the player.
Bally also had some unique ideas in bowlers, like Bally's 1964 Bally Bowler, 1965 Bally Bowler and 1966 Bally Bowler and 1969 Bally Bowler. These three games used a unique "swivel action" reciprocating pins, which allowed the pins to move in any direction (not just backwards like the linear United/CCM games). Unfortunately parts for these (often broken) pins are difficult to find, which presents a problem. But on the other hand, these Bally bowlers are probably the best all around contact ball bowler for realism. Only the 1960 United Bowlarama comes close to these Bally machines for real contact bowling.
Another thing that contributes to the popularity of United and CCM bowlers over Bally is just the sear numbers. Bally stopped making bowlers altogether by 1969, but any Bally bowler after 1959 is pretty rare. United and CCM made bowlers into the 1970s. So there are just a lot more United and CCM bowlers out there, and parts are easier to get. Also United and CCM bowlers of the 1960s are more feature-rich with multiple games. (Bally never got into the 6-game styles that United and CCM used.)
Types of Bowling Games.
Shuffle Alleys (aka "Puck Bowlers").
Bowling Alleys (aka "Ball Bowlers").
The first ball bowler was introduced by United in November of 1956 ("Bowling Alley"). This game was significantly different than a shuffle alley (though it shared the same basic game rules). Chicago Coin and Bally introduced their own initial ball bowlers after United, in February 1957 ("Bowling League" and "A.B.C. Bowling Lane", respectively).
How long should your ball bowler be? Well if you have unlimited space, the longer the better! But most people find that a 16 foot ball bowler is about right. The shorter 13 foot models with 4.5" balls seem too short (though shorter lanes do work well with balls smaller than 4.5 inches). The longer-than-17ft lanes are great, but most people don't have the real estate to dedicate to a ball bowler that long. Hence most people like the 15 to 17 foot games with 4.5" balls and multiple game options the best.
On 1957/1958 ball bowlers, the ball often directly hits the bottom of the bowling pins causing the spring loaded pins to move backward slightly and close a switch. This in turn activated a relay which fully retracted the hit spring-loaded pin. There are NO lane switches. This type of bowler is known as a "contact bowler", because the ball actually makes contact with the pins. But the problem with contact bowlers is the bottom of the pins wear out, causing them to not move when a ball rolls under them, and thus not scoring well. And the rubber that slows the ball after the pins often have some sort of switches to tell the game the ball is past the pins, and often these switch(es) or the rubber breaks making the game unplayable. Finally there is one or two switches for each pin located by the pin release relay (above the pins) that tell the game a pin has been hit. Because of these heavy usage switches, contact bowlers are harder to maintain and operate. Hence they were only used on a few ball (and shuffle) bowlers during 1957 and 1958. Also how the ball hits the pins and then how the pins are retracted gives a kind of "studdered" look to the pin retration. That is, the ball contact the pin moving it back about two inches. This closes a switch which tells the game to pull in the pin relay, causing the pin to then fully retract. There is a very slight delay in this process, making the pin retraction look unnatural (at least to my eye). It's not as smooth and single motioned as a lane switch bowler.
To solve these problem the manufacturers went back to the roll-over switches in the lane (each switch connects to a relay, which when pulled in, allows the respective sprung bowling pin to retract upward). Actually hitting the pins is more realistic, but also causes more potential long term damage to the game (the pins are plastic and often broke, and the pin contact switches got beat to death). Because of this, most ball bowlers use lane switches, which are lower maintainence and just generally work better. It's a bit of an optical illussion though, as the pins are placed an inch or so behind the rollover switch, and only retact when the lane switches are closed (and not by ball impact, but it LOOKS like ball impact is making the pins retract!)
The only true contact ball bowlers made was United Royal (11/57), Bally Lucky Alley (8/58), Bally Strike Bowler (11/57), CCM TV Bowling League (11/57), CCM Lucky Strike (1/58) and United Bowlarama/MBA (1960). Also some shuffle alleys were contact style too in 1957/1958. For the most part I don't see the big deal with contact bowlers - I actually don't mind the lane switches (there was a good reason the manufacturers did not make many contact bowler models).
CCM actually took the lane switch/contact bowler delema a step further with their 1963 Grand series of games. These games had the pins well above the ball, and separated by a small pin deck with formica lane material on the deck. It looks a bit funky at first, but functionally it's great. First there are no visible lane rollover switches, because the switches are *under* the mini-pindeck (making them "roll-under" switches). This gave a much cleaner look to the game. It also hides the ball-pit, again giving a clean look. And since the switches are a roll-under type, beer and pretzels don't get jammed in the switches (rendering the bowler broken). And finally the ball never hits the pins, so there's no broken or dirty pins to deal with. A very good solution to the problem, but CCM only used this system for a few games in 1962-1964. The problem was the visual aspect - it's not quite what you expect a bowler's pins to look like. Hence CCM went back to a standard lane rollover switch design in 1964 with Majestic (which by the way is one of the best CCM ball bowlers, a great looking and playing game). Here's a good picture to demonstrate the two styles of pindecks (the Majestic on the left has standard lane rollover switches, and the Grand Spare Lite on the right has the hidden rollunder style switches. Other than the two different styles of lane switches, these two bowlers are identical.
In 1963-1969 Bally used their unique "swing-away" pins, which were the best of all worlds - the ball hit the pins directly, and the pins swiveled in any direction, allowing them to hit adjacent pins. Unfortunately parts for these pins are difficult to find, and the games themselves are also very rare and not often seen. But they are among the best ball bowlers.
As for styling and game play, personally I like the 1961 to 1964 games best. These games usually have multiple games ("Flash" being my favorite of the alternative-to-Regulation games) and 4.5" balls. By 1964 for United and 1965 for CCM, the games get really ugly in styling. Yes they are good playing games, but the classic looks of good backglass graphics, natural oak trim, and cabinet style/paint are gone.
Roll Down Bowlers.
There was also another hybrid (really a predecessor) of the rolldown by United called Midget Alley (3/58). This game was unique in that it had a motor which spun a 2" composite ball at the player's end of the game. As the ball is spinning faster and faster, the player could aim the ball through a sort of moving sight. When the shot is lined up, a button is pressed releasing the ball on to the six foot alley, and the ball's spin then shot it at the pins. Midget Alley's ball release system was very unique and quite cool (and Midget Alley is a contact bowler). Another game that used this style of ball aim and release was Bally's "Bally Alley", made in the 1939 (not to be confused with the Bally Alley and Bally Lane wall games made in 1974). Bally Alley worked very similar to Midget Alley, but the pins flew to the sides instead of retracting above. Again, I am currently looking for one (please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of one for sale).
Shuffle Targettes (aka "Skee Alleys").
Skee-Ball History and Description.
Philadelphia Toboggan Skeeball game.
Skeeball certainly has its fans. In today's amusement (redemption) centers, they are a mainstream ticket-spitting game. And since skeeball has been around for so long, many people remember them at arcades when they were a kid. ICE (Buffalo NY) sells modern skeeball games like Alley Roller, ICE Ball, and Dunk n Alien. Also the old Philadelphia Toboggan is now Skee-Ball Amusement Games, and sell new versions of their classic skeeball games.
Skee-Balls are not hugely collectible, and certainly not as collectible as Ball Bowlers. The reason? Well there's no mechanical action to them (no pins to hit and retract), so in that regard they are less desirable. But kids love them because the rules are very simple, yet the object (hitting the smallest bullseye hole) is difficult to achieve.
During the 1950s there were the few non-Philly made skeeball games like Genco Skill Ball (1956), CCM Tournament Ski-Ball (1957), CCM Ski-Score (1957), CCM Ski-Bowl (1957) and CCM Skee-Roll (1957). Notice none of these machines use "skee ball" in the name and the scoring is a bit different, due to potential problems with Philadelphia Toboggan. United didn't make any (they stuck to the skee-alley which used a puck instead of a ball), probably because they didn't want to deal with legal hassles of using skee-balls. I personally don't like any of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company skee-ball machines, as they don't have the quality of CCM or Genco machines (but the Philly Toboggan machines are pretty easy to find), and also don't have the interesting scoring.
Bouncing Ball Shuffles.
Bowler Games and Scoring.
Bowler Collectibility, Desirability, and Value.
Ball Bowlers, back in their day, were considered "top end" coin operated models. They sold new for very big money back in the 1950s and 1960s (often $700 or $800 when new), and also made the operators good money. These games were also made like tanks, and many of them have survived. Today, these games can be collectible to the right person (with a BIG walk-out basement!) After all, who doesn't want a bowling alley in their basement? But the question when selling a 11 to 24 foot Ball Bowler isn't, "how much is it worth?" The bigger question is, "who can get this non-working monster out of my basement, and haul it away?" Because of this, unrestored Ball Bowlers tend to sell for a reasonable amount ($0 to $1000).
All Ball Bowlers and Shuffle Alleys effectively are difficult to impossible to ship, so a local buyer is often needed. This limits the price which can be asked (I am currently looking for one, so please contact me at email@example.com if you know of one for sale in Michigan).
Case in point; a gentlemen called me with a 13 foot 1958 United ball bowler. The owner's dad worked for a wiring company in the 1950s that supplied wiring harnesses to United. In the christmas of 1958, a truck pulled up to his house, and out came a brand new 1958 United Bonus Bowler (thank the United Santa Claus!) The game remained in their basement the whole time. A "home use only" ball bowler (great condition!), but the game no longer worked, and the owners were moving.
The game needed to be removed, as the house was being sold. Also the basement was extremely small, and extraction of the bowler would be difficult. So the question to me was this; "what is the game worth?" My response was, "it doesn't really matter what the game is worth, you just need someone that is willing to take it out". And that was truely the case! Extraction of the game from the basement required three people, and took three hours! It was no small chore. The price for the game was $150. Given the work and people involved, the price paid might have been high! (The three people that moved the game complained they were sore for a week afterwards.)
Bowler Brands/Models - Which is Best?
Another consideration is whether the ball/puck bowled actually hits the pins. On early United ball bowlers and most shuffle alleys, the ball or puck actually moves underneath the pins, where lane rollover switches are hit. If the ball/puck rolled over a lane switch, this engaged a relay which allowed that pin to go up (but the ball does *not* hit the pins). If the ball/puck hit a certain series of switches (perhaps the 1 and 2,3 pin switches and then a switch behind all the pins), this would register a strike, and all the pins would go up. Though this is good from a wear point of view (no broken pins!), they are not quite as realistic as a bowler where the ball/puck actually hits the pins themselves. On 1958-1960 games, United/CCM/Bally changed to a lane switch system where the ball actually hits the pins, but the lane rollover switch is what actually makes the pin retract. (Except on a couple games in 1958 where United used a "contact bowler" system to raise the pins. The pins would have a light spring which would allow the pin to move up about one inch or two. As the pin would move up from the impact of the ball, this would activate an overhead switch, which would energize a relay and raise the pin without using the force of the ball. This is a nice idea, as the reaction of the ball hitting the pin is what raises the pin, with help from the game. Also the lane was completely smooth with no proturding switches. Unfortunately this system required too much maintainence, and was changed to a lane switch style system. This is where the ball can graze the bottom of the pins, but the lane switch is what actually causes the pin to retract (and the pins should retract just before the ball hits it).
Then there's which bowler manufacturer to pick. As discussed above, this is largely personal preference. I like United and CCM bowlers best as I feel the quality and styling is top-notch. Bally bowlers feel strange to me personally, but the 1963-1969 units are perhaps the best ball bowlers ever made.
But no matter what style or brand of game you prefer, I'm sure you'll have fun. If you can fix one of these monsters and you have the space for it, they are quite entertaining and competitive. The ultimate party game!
Bowler Repair/Restoration Information.
Common Bowling Alley and Shuffle Alley problems:
Click here for a playfield switch diagram. This particular diagram is from the 1961 United "Line Up" shuffle alley. It shows each alley switch and what relay and function it performs.
The Alphabetic/Chronological Bowler Information below.
The following information is broken into three parts. The first list is United/Williams games in alphabetic order. The second list is chronological. The third list is other makers (Chicago Coin and Bally mostly).
United Bowling and Shuffle Alley Games (Alphabetic).
Numbers (only games that start with actual numbers, not spelled numbers):
United Bowling and Shuffle Alleys (Chronological).
All Bowlers from here on are six player games with score reels.
Most Bowlers after this point used Regulation scoring instead of 20/30 scoring. The 20/30 scoring method was largely abandoned.
After 1960, no More 1950s-ish Girls on United Bowler Backglasses.
Other Brands of Bowling Alleys.
Chicago Coin (Alphabetic) aka CDI, CCM.
Chicago Coin (Chronological) aka CDI, CCM.
* Email the collector firstname.lastname@example.org
* Go to the CoinOp Bowing History index
* Go to the Pinball Repair/History index