LOCAL FOLKS: Pins, balls, grease & gears

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Terry Weldon is a behind-the-scenes, get-your-hands-dirty kind of guy.
While paying customers have their fun, he keeps gears turning and balls rolling at Rebelanes in Tupelo. The 54-year-old is chief mechanic, and evidence suggests he was born for the job.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15 years old. I worked in bowling houses all over Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years,” Weldon said, as half-century-old machines clanked and groaned behind him. “You might as well say I’ve mastered it by now.”
His mom worked at a bowling house in Birmingham, Ala., where she often set up his playpen. He bowled his first frame at age 5 or 6.
The big moment came when he was 10 and went to the back of the house to see the big machines in action, putting pins in place and sending balls back to bowlers.
“It was amazing,” he recalled. “I said, ‘One day when I grow up I’m going to work on them,’ and that’s what I did.”
The machines shouldn’t matter to a bowler, unless something goes wrong. Crisis management to keep the game going is central to Weldon’s job description, but day-to-day maintenance is more important because well-kept equipment cuts down on emergencies.
“My job is maintaining, greasing, oiling, adjusting and repairing – minor and major,” he said. “If it goes bad, I can repair it. I’ve been doing this so long, I could do it with my eyes closed. It’s a habit, like tying your shoes.”
A new bowling machine can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Imagine buying 20 of them. For that matter, a new gearbox “brain” for a 50-year-old machine can cost $10,000. Weldon rebuilds what he can, and even invents new technology.
A simple-looking system of springs and straps costs about $7 to implement. A more by-the-book solution would’ve cost about $100.
“This little thing tells the balls where to go. It’s 98 percent effective, not 100 percent, but…,” he said with a shrug.
He’s worked full time at Rebelanes for nearly a year, and did part-time work before that. Weldon commutes from Columbus each day, and still does part-time work for a house there. He also gets calls from other bowling centers.
“I don’t charge them nothing over the phone,” he said. “If I can’t fix it over the phone, I’ll go there sometimes.”
Eventually, bowling centers will update to modern equipment, making Weldon’s specialized knowledge obsolete. Who knows what he’ll do then?
But for now, he’s at home, working amid the grease and gears so bowlers in the front of the house can have their fun.
“The inventor of these old machines? He might’ve been a genius, but I probably could embarrass him,” Weldon said. “I probably could run them better then he could. I usually figure it out. I understand these machines.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com