Karen Telthoester doesn’t necessarily have to look at bowlers to know when one of them is nearing a perfect 300 game.
That’s because Telthoester, the 30-year owner of the Princeton Lanes bowling alley, knows her bowlers.
“When one of my bowlers gets a strike on the first ball of the ninth frame” and has had a strike on each preceding frame, the “whole house (bowling alley) shuts down” as the word has spread of the 300 possibility, Telthoester said.
Telthoester was mentioning the perfect single game that bowlers strive for, as well as the difficult 800 score in a three-game series, as she reminisced about her years owning the bowling alley, located just east of Princeton city limits along Highway 95.
Telthoester is the not the first owner of Princeton Lanes, but she can perhaps list the most changes to occur at the facility as its owner.
Ken and June Kunkel had the bowling alley built new in 1960, and the Kunkels still live across the yard to the west of the bowling alley. The Kunkels sold Princeton Lanes to Lyle Enger in 1977, and Telthoester bought it from Enger in 1982.
Telthoester focused right away on the fact that bowlers would be wearing jackets to keep warm during some winter bowling sessions. Telthoester said that one league, for sure, would have a thermometer with them and would leave if the temperature sank as low as 50 degrees.
It wasn’t a good heating setup, just a wood-fired stove in the pit behind the pin-setting machines, Telthoester recalled. The heat from the wood stove had to make its way through a small heat duct, all the way to the other end of the building, where it would come out of a small vent, Telthoester noted.
She also didn’t like that the stove was in the maintenance shop part of the building where there were volatile substances stored, like urethane for refinishing the wooden lanes and chemicals to clean the lanes. The building had two oil burners in the front but they didn’t function, she recalled.
Telthoester changed that by replacing the wood-fired heating system with four suspended natural gas stoves.
The result was “very favorable,” she said.
Other changes made under her ownership included:
• black topping the gravel parking lot.
• adding three-phase wiring to increase the current.
• installing new ceiling tile.
• putting in new carpet a couple times.
• upgrading the game scoring – first to a Telescore system and then computerized scoring.
• putting in a pro shop where bowling balls could be drilled.
Legions of bowlers take pride in bowling well and the names of bowlers who bowl a 300 game or get an 800 in three games, get their name placed on a sign at Princeton Lanes. Various Princeton bowling halls of fame are also maintained there.
Probably the best bowler in the history of Princeton Lanes is Fred Schossow, Telthoester said, recalling Schossow getting four 300s and two 800s when he bowled there for about six years, into 2006.
Bowling those high scores is not the only way to be remembered at Princeton Lanes. The late Omar Meyer bowled at Princeton Lanes for about 30 years and his claim to fame was that he was blind. Telthoester remembers how Meyer would tap his foot on places in the facility to know where he was at.
Meyer was so good at bowling that “if you didn’t know he was blind, you wouldn’t know it by looking at him,” she said. “I always thought Omar had an avid love for bowling,” she added, recalling how he even bowled at the veterans hospital when he was there. Meyer’s wife, also now deceased, would keep score for Omar.
Business ups and downs
Telthoester remembers the 1980s as her peak business years, noting that more people wanted to be in bowling leagues at Princeton Lanes than there were openings at one point. But then the “town kind of fell apart and took me with it,” she said.
What she meant, she explained, was that one of the town’s biggest manufacturers, Smith System (which made metal desks and tables), closed. Later Westling Manufacturing (which remanufactured or reconditioned auto parts) did the same, and then Crystal Cabinet Works laid off about 300 workers, a few years back.
When Smith System closed, for example, she lost a whole league that would bowl Wednesday nights.
Another downtime was from June into November 2010, when two bridges were demolished and replaced, all within a short distance from Princeton Lanes. For many bowlers, it meant a detour of about a dozen miles one way, and that led to “virtually no open bowling” during that time, she said. It took a while for her business to recover, especially during the recent bad economy, Telthoester noted. This past fall and spring were her best business times in five to six years, she said.
“Bowling is always trendy and the bridge (interruption) was God awful,” she added.
Princeton Lanes will have two men’s leagues, two women’s, three mixed men’s and women’s, and two children’s leagues, starting this fall, according to Telthoester.
Telthoester, who has been bowling since she was in her 20s, said she doesn’t understand why more older people don’t bowl, as she feels it would be a good social outlet for them, as well as providing exercise.
Besides liking the game of ten-pin bowling, Telthoester says she has loved the business because of her customers, many of them coming through as three generations in a family.
However, as much as Telthoester has found enjoyment in the business, she said that she would like to sell Princeton Lanes so she could retire and have time for other interests. Much of the spare time she has now, it appears from talking with her, is when she knocks down the rest of the ten pins with the second ball in a frame. Couldn’t that be called spare time?