Jerry’s Journal

Who knew where it would lead?

The saga of the Bates Grip began a couple of columns ago and with it came a suggestion I call Jim Best who had worked at the old B&T Sport’s Shop on South First Street back in the 1950s.

Jim Best the Well Driller? I asked. Yep, that’s the one.

And so I did, and so did he graciously return my phone call. Jim said he worked at the B&T from 1952 to 1956, and it was Ed Bock, the owner of the sport’s shop, now deceased, who drilled the bowling balls with the Bates Grip.

We sold bowling balls only occasionally, though, Jim said. Most were done at the bowling allies in town. He said he looked up the Bates Grip on the Internet and discovered that prior to that, bowling balls were mostly the 2-fingered kind.

Then came the 3-fingered bowling balls we became so familiar with in the heyday of league bowling here in Fulton and indeed across the country.

No mystery no more: I asked my sister Denise, who is married to pro-bowler Mark Roth, to see what she could find out about the Bates Grip.

This is her return email from which I quote:

“I talked to Larry Lichstein who drilled balls for the Professional Bowlers Tour for 25 to 30 years. His reply about Bates Grip is that it was actually referred to as Bates Curve Grip. It was an automatic motorized drill feed that went into the ball and would curve the finger grip toward your palm or other adjustments depending on the customer’s need.

In his entire career and after visiting more than 12,000 bowling centers/pro shops worldwide, he encountered only two of these motorized devices as there were very few ever made.

Since there were so few made and they were not predominantly used during Larry’s career, he’s never known anyone to use that type off ball drilling today. The Bates was first used in the 1940s.”

(Thanks, Neice, for the info!)

Still at it: Most of us know Jim Best as “The Well Driller” who lives out in Granby where he was once held the title of town supervisor, and who also once served as a county legislator.

In any case, he said he still has his Ebonite bowling ball, drilled with Bates Grip, complete with his initials on it, tucked away in a closet. He used to bowl three nights a week, he said, when the alleys were filled up with teams made up people who worked together or belonged to the same church and so on.

His mom bowled too, “to the day she died!” he said. A lot of stay-at-home moms bowled. It was a way to get with friends and relax. Everybody could bowl because of handicap (an amount added to the actual score).

Jim said who knew that someday TV would become a necessity. He said he likes the way things change.

As humans we need to keep improving. Today we have better things, better medical … better everything … he said … that’s the way it should be. I thank him for the most interesting conversation.  He’s still in the well drilling business, by the way.

The old pavilion, football and Halloween: Bowling balls were not the only pieces of sports equipment lost in the fire at the old pavilion at Recreation Park back in the 1940s.

According to Jim “Hunky” McNamara, Fulton High School’s football team’s uniforms were stored there as well. (The team played at Recreation Park. Who remembers the big, wooden bleachers?)

“Syracuse University gave us their practice uniforms,” Hunky said.

FHS football coach Willard “Andy” Anderson was a graduate of SU — “one of their best running backs ever” — and he got the uniforms for us. “They were blue and gray.”

I told Hunky I have my own memory of the pavilion. I was in first grade in 1940, and it was Halloween and the city held a Halloween costume parade on West Broadway and they treated us to cider and doughnuts in the pavilion.

I somehow got lost from my classmates and was sobbing my little head off when Seymour Cole, the police chief, found my mother for me. I forever after, during by growing up years at least, told how the police chief saved my life.

My friend Ellie Pryor also remembers that parade all too well and said she got mixed in with a class other than her own from Phillips Street School and was so scared and upset because she thought she’d get in trouble for it.

Hunky laughed at my tales and said the kids from the east side didn’t walk in the parade because they were probably out tricks and treating. He said he thought Sam Vescio might have played for Fulton High School during that time of the fire and suggested I call him. So I did! (Thanks, Hunky, for “adding” to my column.)

Sam Vescio, in my opinion, is the “ultimate local historian” if there ever was one.

He said the pavilion burned down in 1943, and he lost his bowling ball in that fire as did many others. He said it was an Ebonite and drilled with the Bates Grip, and that he had his two best games at that time with that ball: a 226 and a 242.

Later on, he said, he bowled at Anderson’s lanes, which eventually became Tony Fedora’s Lanes, near the forks of the road where today Par K does business.

His teammates were Bubba Tracy, Walt Glod, Joe Swiech and Myron Hryncek. And yes, he did play football at Good Old Fulton High, but it was in 1944 and 1945. Thanks, Sam. You’re always fun to talk to.

I interviewed a nice gentleman by the name of Tom Trepasso a few weeks ago and will feature him in my next column. Meanwhile, if you happen to be over on Hannibal Street one of these fine fall days, check out the Yankees logo on the front of his house and the cute Halloween decoration on his lawn.

Now here’s my caveat: Reader beware! I write for fun. I am not a historian, nor a reporter. I write from memory and from what others want to share. Sometimes I look things up; sometimes I mess things up.

I hope you have fun reading my stuff. Your comments, additions and corrections are always welcome. You may contact me at 133 Tannery Lane, Fulton, phone 592-7580 or email Please put Jerry’s Journal in the subject line. Thanks!

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