Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Gay Way in Fruitland

This posting is not what you think.

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
My Grandfather saved up some money during WWII working at the Ogden Arsenal, later the Ogden Defense Depot where he ended up as a Superintendent. He went to Nyssa, Oregon in that unofficial Mormon migration after the war along with people he knew. His intention was to buy a grocery store. His family and certainly my Grandmother and her family were shocked when he came back with a deed to what was referred to as a pool hall - in actuality a bar - the Olympic Club. Then, in 1953, he sold the Olympic Club and with a partner to help finance, and Grandpa to provide the management, he converted the old dance hall at Gayway Junction, a three-option highway choice to Ontario, Oregon, Fruitland, or Payette, Idaho.

Grandpa once told me the reason why he left the Olympic Club that I have never been able to corroborate with any other member of the family - the sort of thing you might want to do with Grandpa George. But sometimes Grandpas confide in their oldest grandsons things they wouldn't tell anyone else. He said that one day my aunt was crying and when asked the reason why, she said that one of her friends' father had lost all his paycheck gambling at the Olympic Club. My Grandpa, in self reproach responded (as he told me), "That is no honest way for a man to earn a living!" My aunt does not remember that story from her teenage years. However it happened, he sold the pool hall and went into the bowling-alley business.

Now there very well may have been some card games at the Gay Way. Grandpa also told me this bit of sage advice, "If you're going to gamble, always be the house because the house gets a cut out of every hand." I haven't gambled much at all (well, there was that penny-ante game with a former U.S. Attorney, now a Federal District Court Judge, but I'll save that for another time). From brief references in family letters, there apparently was a slot machine at the Gay Way that helped pay for my Dad's college expenses at BYU:
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.   
I enjoyed visiting my other Grandpa's farm. I had unrealistic dreams of maybe becoming a farmer. I never dreamed of running a bowling alley, but what a magical place that was to hang around and have free reign! We of course learned to bowl. And pretty well too, even if far from any competitive standing. And there were wondrous places in the back where we could watch the automatic pin setters at work (Manuel, Abo, Cousin, etc., long gone by those days). Grandpa had a very mysterious man of Asian heritage working for him as a mechanic to keep those machines going. There was a downstairs too with dressing rooms. I don't know if they were part of the bowling alley or left over from the old dance hall. And there was the "Cry-Room" which we couldn't figure out for quite a few years, but was the lounge where losers would go to drown their sorrows in a beer - and maybe a game of cards.

We sort of worked at the bowling alley just to help out. We sprayed the shoes coming in and learned to handle the cash register there and at the snack bar. These were the old push button, mechanical kind But mostly it was just fun.
My brother bowling at the Gay Way
While it was Grandpa's bowling alley, Grandma was the book keeper. She spent many long hours in the little room down at the end of the lanes - the opposite end from the "Cry Room" lounge. I think she really was the manager of the business. Grandpa did a lot of things, but I think the most important thing he did was to add "color" to the place - and his certainly wasn't pink. And it wasn't that "blue" either. At least not anytime I was around. One of our biggest adventures was to go with Grandpa to the bank in Payette to deposit the cash. But Grandma kept the books.

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.
The Gay Way had a few pinball machines. My Grandpa, always adventurous, bought a fancy new machine you put quarters in to play "Pong" - Yes, the first, famous, video arcade game. In the 70s, the annex/entrance to the Gay Way was full of video games and was about the last money-maker going as a teen hang-out when the bowling alley shut down.

My two eldest children at the former Gay Way 1989. We found some of the original pink on the east side.
I took my little family to visit the Gay Way building in 1989. It was torn down in 1990 to make way for a more profitable strip mall after my Grandpa and Uncle failed to find any commercial use for the old structure. The property still had value. Grandpa cleared enough to have a comfortable retirement with summers in Boise and winters in Glendale, Arizona until they decided not to travel so much and settled sort of half-way between in St. George, Utah. My paternal grandparents are both buried in the beautiful cemetery high on the hill above Santa Clara.

Addendum:
Same day.
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.
Sometimes I go into old bowling alleys to have a lunch at the snack counter. They all smell the same. Stale tobacco smoke and stale beer. The smell of leather shoes and the disinfectant - wood flooring and polish. And the rumbling sound of rolling bowling balls and the crash of pins with the whirring and clanking of machinery to scoop them up and set them again. And the smell of Campbell's Tomato Soup hot in the bowl.

3 comments:

  1. Well, I had to search the article to find your name because I wanted this letter to be personal, and I found it at the very bottom of the page, so….

    Grant~

    As I was doing a little research, I typed in George Vaughn Idaho, and the link that caught my eye had the word “Fruitland” in it, so I went to your site. The reason it was of interest to me is because George was my uncle! My name is Barbara (Meyer) LeFevre, and my mom, Bertha, was George’s youngest sister. That would make us first cousins, once removed!

    I can’t tell you how excited I was finding and reading this little nugget about my family. Aside from just knowing about Uncle Georges and Aunt Dorothy’s bowling alley, it is one of my memories, too, albeit not to the same degree as yours, which sounds truly wonderful. Sometime in the early 60s, my family went on vacation, and one of our stops was Fruitland. There’s something very special about visiting relatives that you never get to see, and I was not disappointed. Uncle George seemed larger than life to me, and what stuck out about him, for me, was that big, old cigar that never seemed to be far from him!! Of course, there was bowling involved, and one memory that I have shared numerous times is that he shut the bowling alley down for us. I felt pretty special.

    I got to see Aunt Dorothy in 1997 when my kids and I stopped in St. George on our way to California for vacation. It was nice seeing her and to be able to catch up on things. The only sad note was that Uncle George had passed six (I think) months prior to that.

    Although Uncle George is gone, his name will live on, at least his middle name. When my daughter and son-in-law had their son 2 ½ years ago, they couldn’t decide upon a middle name to go with Miles. Of course, we went through all the Vaughn names, but none of them said ‘yes’ to them. I suggested “Ellis,” but because it was my grandmother’s name, they weren’t crazy about giving it to their boy. What changed their minds was that a man, a manly man, had it for his middle name!

    I would love to hear from you and to learn about your family. Also, you didn’t your mom in the family picture. Is she Carolyn or Kathleen? How are Larry and David?

    Barbara

    P.S. Your article was great. If I even knew the name of the bowling alley, I forgot it, but the Gay Way/Pink/Fruitland thing…funny! You are right. You can’t make that stuff up!


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara-
      Good to hear from you, Cousin! in the family picture, Carolyn is on the far left and Kathleen is on the far right and David next to Kathleen. You can contact me directly at grant.vaughn [at] gmail.com. And Ellis is a good, male, Welsh name that connects well with our Vaughn (originally Vaughan or Welsh 'Fychan') name, even though Ellis seems to have come through the Rice family (also, a Welsh name, originally 'Rhys')

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  2. Grant,

    Thank you for sharing the story about Gay Way Bowl. I was describing it to some coworkers and they couldn't comprehend a "pink" bowling alley. I decided to see if there was anything on the Internet and low and behold, your story came up.
    I learned to bowl at Gay Way Bowl. I also was one of the teens that spent plenty of time in the game room in the late 1970s. At the time, I believe a man by the name of Lloyd ran it, but I can't be sure. Nonetheless, your story brought memories flooding back to me. As a kid, there was a television show called "Real People" where you would send in funny items from around the U.S. I sent them pictures of Gay Way Bowl, told them it was in the town of Fruitland and had the old truck parked out front advertising the television repair shop of "Two Guys TV" which was situated in Payette. They sent me back a letter saying it couldn't possibly exist.
    Oh well. Thanks again for sharing. I very much enjoyed reading and remembering.

    ReplyDelete

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