Bellmar grad racked up lasting memories at NBV bowling alleys & pool hall
There was a time when nearly every town in this Mid-Mon Valley had at least one.
They were known by different names – pool hall, pool room, billiards parlor – but all held an aura of mystique and adventure for young boys eager to become young men.
For John I. Orrison, a 1963 graduate of Bellmar High School now living in Gainesville, Ga., that rite of passage came as it did to so many others at the Belle Vernon Bowling Alleys owned and operated for 22 years by Andrew “Red” Youshock of Monessen at 527 Broad Ave., North Belle Vernon.
Orrison, 68, recounts his introduction to Red's establishment as part of a well-written collection of journeys to Yesteryear titled, “Growing Up Bellmar: Reminiscences of My Youth.”
“The entrance to Red's was one doorway in an alley behind Broad Avenue,” Orrison wrote.
“From the Broad Avenue side of the building, it was an innocuous, harmless-looking portal that had a simple sign proclaiming ‘Bowling & Billiards.'
“Upon entering the building, patrons descended a flight of stairs that opened to a large area with pool tables behind a drapery wall. Next to the pool tables area were bowling alleys.
“Red sat behind a counter where he could watch the pool tables and rent out shoes to the bowlers.
“He maintained the demeanor of a courtroom bailiff, mostly, I suppose, to keep the pool shooters in line.
“That popular movie, ‘The Hustler,' had not yet been made and the upscale yuppie pool rooms with pastel-colored tables from Brunswick were a generation in the future.”
Orrison recalled that the bowling alleys were used mostly at night by teams of rubber-band duckpin bowlers, “mostly moms and dads and those competing in various leagues there.”
“The pool tables were most heavily used in the afternoons, after school let out,” he said.
“The pool shooters were the ‘greasers,' who scowled most of the time and had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in their shirt sleeves.
“When the denizens of the pool hall wanted to smoke, Red made them go outside in the alley so as not to get cigarette burns on his tables.
“During pool table periods, the alley was a formidable place for a non-greaser to wander. Although it provided a good shortcut from my house to Standard Pharmacy and The Verdi Theatre, I seldom walked that way at those times.”
Despite the fact that he knew “these were not the role models I would be allowed to emulate,” Orrison said, “the thrill and mystery of the forbidden had its allure.”
“My dad (John Irvin Orrison) often told me that, in college, he was a pretty good pool shot,” Orrison said. “I used this knowledge to try to get him to take me to the pool hall to teach me how to shoot pool. The truth was that, although I liked opportunities to do things with Dad, I really wanted to see what went on in there, sort of like the popular song of the time, ‘Green Door.'
“He put me off for many years, until one day when I was about 14 years old and he said it was time to teach me how to shoot pool.”
Those instructions came on a busy Saturday afternoon after Orrison and his father had taken groceries home from Dolfi's Market.
“We entered through the Bowling & Billiards portal and descended into Red's domain,” Orrison recalled. “Dad looked around, inspected the tables and asked Red if he had an ivory cue ball. Red said he didn't, so Dad and I went to the table he had selected and he began my lessons.
“There were only a few of the regular pool crews in there that day. They eyed us curiously but went about their own games.
“After Dad instructed me on the basics, we started playing. We did not play 9-Ball or 8-Ball like the other shooters were doing. We played ‘call pool,' a game in which you have to call each shot including banks and combinations with other balls or the shot doesn't count.”
The game was scored, Orrison said, on a series of sliding beads on wires hanging over the tables. The object was to sink 100 balls before your opponent.
“You shot until you missed, then the other person got a turn until he missed,” Orrison said.
“One of the trickiest parts of the game was when you had to re-rack because you had shot all but one of the balls on the table. Being able to sink the ball and impart enough ‘English' (spin) on the cue ball to get it to break up the racked-up balls for subsequent shots was what separated the novice from the pro.”
Orrison said he got “maybe three shots” that first day, “none of which resulted in my getting any of the balls into the pocket.”
A week or so later, the father-son team returned to Red's for a second round of lessons.
“When we walked in, and from that day on, when Dad went up to Red to rent the table, Red handed my Dad a small wooden box. Inside the box, wrapped in velvet, was an ivory cue ball.
“Red explained that he didn't often give it out because most of the patrons would eventually bounce a cue ball off the table onto the concrete floor and damage it.
“I guess watching Dad shoot that first day convinced Red that my father wasn't likely to bounce the cue ball, nor was he going to allow me to do anything that would launch the ball off the table.”
Throughout his high school years, Orrison said, he and his father would visit Red's once every three or four weeks.
“I never got nearly as good at pool as my dad, but I also never got tired of spending the time with him,” Orrison said.
“As an added benefit, the alley door at Red's was not nearly as forbidding once I had been inside and was a regular at the pool hall. But I never had any desire to go there without my dad.”
The site that housed Red Youshock's bowling alleys and pool room is now home to Primerica, a national firm that offers financial consulting and analysis services.
Andrew “Red” Youshock was only 64 when he died on Nov. 25, 1971.
His wife, Anna Latkanich Youshock, who helped run the family business, died on Sept. 28, 1982, at age 75. Anna Youshock also worked for U.S. Steel Corp. for 32 years.
Vance Bunardzya of Rostraver Township, who also grew up in Belle Vernon, recalled that Red's bowling alleys were “predominantly duckpin lanes.”
But there also were tenpin facilities available.
“There were no automatic pinsetters, it was all done by human hands,” Bunardzya said. “There were many times when I, or others who spent time there, would fill in as pinsetters if one of the regulars didn't show.”
Fred Fundy of North Belle Vernon offered a reminder that Red's brother, Dave Youshock, ran a popular dairy bar for several years on Broad Avenue where the entrance to St. Sebastian School is now located across the alley from Fox's Pizza Den.
John I. Orrison is now semi-retired and serves as principal consultant with Draper & Associates' Construction Services Division in Atlanta, Ga.
He has more than 45 years of experience in a successful career of construction, contracts and consulting, including a long tenure as managing principal and senior vice president of the firm.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.