Having my piece on Nyssa, Oregon, the Amalgamated Sugar Co., and the maternal side of my family published at Keepapitchinin.org, I woke up with a start this morning and realized I had to write about the Gay Way. In the Keepa piece, I made passing reference to my paternal grandfather running a bowling alley across the Snake River in Idaho. That was the Gay Way Bowl, in Fruitland. It's one of those things you just can't make up. If you still don't believe me, here's a piece about Gayway Junction from Fruitland history:
Warren Dorothy bought a small chunk of land and built the Gayway Dance Hall at the junction. Famous country and western bands played there in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1953 George Vaughn renovated the building - turning it into a large bowling alley. A controversy developed later over the building's color - it was pink. When it faded, the owner painted it a brighter pink much to the dismay of community members. A big windstorm damaged structure in August of 1976. In 1981 it was vacated and in 1990 torn down. A mini-mall now stands in it's place. (From Ron Marlow's Fruitland, Idaho page, First printed in The Independent-Enterprise, Payette, Idaho, November 14, 2001.)George Vaughn was my grandfather, born in West Ogden, Utah, his father and family were immigrants from Durham, England who had spent a generation there after leaving the Black Mountains of Wales.
|The Gay Way Bowl at Gayway Junction, Fruitland, Idaho. Sometime not long after closing|
January 4, 1954 - My Dad writing home: ". . . . "How's the nickel machine? . . ."
January 6, 1954 - My Grandmother to my Dad: ". . . . The Nisei Major league bowled last night and fed nickels into that machine as fast as I could hand them out. . . ."
January 14, 1954 - My Grandmother: ". . . . The Idaho law abolishing slot machines also took away the nickel machine at the GayWay, so we have lost that source of income. . . ."Here's more about the Gay Way from my Uncle's talk at Grandpa's funeral in 1997:
I’d like to talk to you just for a minute if I can without breaking up about a George Ellis Vaughn that probably a lot of you didn’t know, the George Ellis Vaughn that ran a “bowling center.” He ran a bowling alley in the “Payette area.” Actually, I've got to tell you this, the name of the bowling alley was “Gay Way Bowl.” Now mom picked the name. Dad converted an old dance hall that was known as the “Gay Way” at an intersection between Fruitland, Idaho and Payette. And she said, “You know ‘gay’ used to be such a nice word.” Regardless of your tolerance of other lifestyles, it’s meant something else lately. And it was painted pink, folks. And it was in Fruitland. I mean it made the paper in San Francisco in Herb Caen’s column. Somebody came by and just could not believe all that. And I’ll tell ya, I’m not a fighter, but I had chances, I did. It was difficult sometimes, but we got to love that old place.
I got to see it remodeled about twenty times I think. Mom, would you say twenty? It started out with just eight lanes. We used one side and the dance floor for the first eight lanes. And that first year, I was only about twelve, but I got to get into business with my dad. And one reason was because, folks, it was tough to find pin setters. We had semi-automatics back in those days. The principal asked me why I was late for school so often on Wednesday mornings. And I said, “Well, you know, I was working. I was setting pins the night before.” So he threatened to buy me an alarm clock but I figured out a better way. I just came at noon. And I’d come with an excuse from my dad that I had to work. It worked for the guys in the fields working in the orchards. I was in a rural community. Now, I literally fulfilled the nursery rhyme:
A diller a dollar,
A ten o’clock scholar.
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at 10 o’clock
And now you come at noon.
Folks, I did that! And it worked!
I got to know my dad the best at the bowling alley. In fact he became known as “Bowling Alley George.” That’s the way he answered the phone. “Bowling Alley George.” We weren’t sure if it was an identification, but it worked.
He wrote a column for the paper, “Down the Alley.” “Down the Alley?” Yeah, “Down the Alley.” And that ran for years and was fun to read. Mom still has some. Oh, some of them humorous, some of them very, very serious.
We had a bunch of characters in the bowling alley. The family knows these. Doc K___ had no back swing at all. He looked so ridiculous. And J___ P____ swung so high that the ball was above his head. I mean it was one extreme to the other. We got to know those folks pretty well.
But the folks, and we’ve listed them here, I’ll tell you who they are. The honorary pallbearers, Abo, Manuel, Cousin and the rest. We didn’t know some of these folks’ last names. But they set pins for us. Some of them were in between jobs. Some of them were expatriates from other countries without portfolio and were deported later. Cousin, we knew him as “Cousin.” We didn’t know his name. I don’t remember if he didn’t know what we were asking him when we said, “What’s your name?” or what. But he obviously couldn’t speak English. But he was somebody’s cousin and so, thanks to Larry that’s the name that he went by. And folks, that’s the name we made his checks out to, “Cousin.” And of course in a small town they cashed them, I guess. I don’t know.
We lived in Nyssa when we first started the bowling alley. We were driving back and forth about twelve miles and hauled those pin setters back and forth. Sometimes we’d drop them off at home and sometimes we’d drop them off at the Rainbow. The building’s still there but I’m sure the local authorities have run that business out of town, I hope.
I looked down the alley - that first year - down the alley. They called me up and said, “Please come. We’re short some pin setters.” I ran down or somebody came and got me. And I’m setting pins on one and two. We had eight alleys. And I looked over here and there’s Larry setting pins on three and four. And Dad’s setting pins on five and six. And Chuck Watanabe who had come in to bowl and had talked to my mom was setting pins on seven and eight. I think Mom talked him into it. So we had a good relationship with the bowlers.
The bowling alley was kind of a sanctuary for folks. Dad was not big on holidays. And if you saw “A Christmas Story” the movie of a few years ago, it’s kind of like, you know, Mom kind of did Christmas. Dad showed up but not ‘til after the presents were unwrapped. But I spent Christmas Eves in the bowling alley with my father after the other kids left. Now that sounds a little strange. There’re only five or six people there on Christmas Eve. And Mom said to Dad, “Why don’t you just close the place. There’s nobody here. We’re not making any money and it’s Christmas Eve.”
And Dad said, “Where would these people go if we didn’t have the bowling alley open?”
Dad was maybe a little too tenderhearted in some ways. He thought about folks that didn’t have anywhere to go on Christmas Eve.
|My brother bowling at the Gay Way|
|The George & Dorothy Vaughn Family, about 1965|
Privileged, oldest grandson (me) front and center between my Grandparents
My Mom behind me, my Dad behind his Dad, my Brother to the right.
|My two eldest children at the former Gay Way 1989. We found some of the original pink on the east side.|
I just went to get some ice cream (because nothing warms the heart - or at least fattens the belly like a good bowl of ice cream on a cold, snowy winter's day). And I remembered my favorite ice cream bowl, used principally for that sole purpose, is a relic from the Gay Way snack bar. My family doesn't appreciate it like I do:
|The bowl from the Gay Way. My Grandma would serve soup out of a can for us in these bowls.|
Update-- August 20, 2015:
A matchbook cover from the original dance hall!! (pre-1953) h/t JD Doyle below.