AMF – From Bowling Balls to Bicycles?

StampBowlWheels4 copySpent part of the weekend tuning up an old yellow bicycle given to me over a decade ago. It was a thrift score, a 5-speed Roadmaster cruiser named Nimble.

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It was as cute as a button. When I first got it, I strapped a camera mount on it and used it as my photo excursion touring vehicle.

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Turns out, it wasn’t so nimble. Over time, I couldn’t ignore the clumsy proportions of the frame and the oversized seat which made for an awkward uncomfortable ride. So it ended up taking a back seat to more user friendly cruisers on hand. Alas, the Nimble sat neglected out on the roof I used to call home, braving the Southern California elements.

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Last weekend, I decided to get the little feller into working order again. It looked pretty sad– dusty and rusty with two flat tires. While cleaning her up, I noticed the familiar AMF branding on the bicycle frame. AMF? Of bowling alley fame?

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Yep! Brooklyn based American Machine and Foundry dabbled in a bit of everything. AMF got its start in 1900 by making equipment for the tobacco industry. By the 1940’s, it had diversified into all sorts of automatic manufacturing gear– from mechanical bread packagers to necktie stitchers to pretzel twisting machines.

It seems either a head scratcher or a logical progression that in the 40’s AMF would introduce the first automatic bowling pin setting machine. (Remember, humans used to do that job.) The so called Pinspotter was a hit! Because of it, AMF both helped create and profited from a countrywide “bowling boom”. This is why AMF would come to be synonymous with bowling. Lanes, balls, pins, and bowling alley operations would follow.

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In the 50’s AMF got into the bicycle racket. (Later, they also got into the tennis racket racket, but that’s another story.) The AMF Wheel Goods Division produced Roadmaster bicycles in a super automated factory in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to the baby boom, they sold a lot of bicycles and soon moved operations to a bigger new factory in Illinois.

It’s there that AMF Wheel Goods started going downhill fast along with the quality of their bicycle line. It’s said that some bicycle shops even declined repairing Roadmasters, cause there’s no polishing a turd I guess.

The Roadmaster Nimble I have dates back to the 1970s and that’s just about when things started to go wheely bad over at AMF Wheel Goods. So it seems like I have a lemon on my hands. But that’s okay. Like a Cutter, I’ll pedal through the rough patches and make lemonade.

 

 

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Century Records Update– The Hits Keep Coming

Maybe our quest for Century Records wasn’t all for naught. A reader, Audrey wrote in to tell us that her dad, Sam Rice, was a recording tech there. Her memories begin to flush out the black and white sketch on the back of the record and what went on within.

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“I remember visiting the factory only a few times. I think I remember the processing room, but very dimly. I remember the smell of the records being made. I remember the red blue and gold records, I think. I mostly remember desert-like landscaping, the crunch of rocks instead of glass, and a water dispenser with cold water in the waiting room.”

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She even shared a peek of some of her pop’s Century Records paperwork– recording schedules and contracts. Looks like you could get a school record in the works for six bucks per unit back in ’65. Of course, this includes some whistles and bells like “special editing, anti static vinyl, and custom album cover”.  Wonder if color vinyl was extra?

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Turns out Audrey’s dad was a big of a big shot over at Century, at least in 1965 when he got a gold medal for a top 10 record.

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Unfortunately, her father has passed, but his name lives on– showing up on many of the Century Records in those thrift store bins.

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So we continue to scour those thrift shops while keeping our ears out for more Century Records stories… If you have any, drop us a line.

Lost in the Past Century – Century Records

Before School of Rock there was Century Records. Nothing against the 6-year-old guitar prodigy or the teen wonderkid singer songwriter, but who doesn’t love a creaky out of tune cover song played by a run-of-the-mill middle school band?

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Century Records was largely a franchise operation. Local recording companies across USA peddled Century’s LP Packages then sent their school recordings to Saugus, California to be pressed and printed. Century was the brain child of a guy named Keyser who was deep into plastics and vinyl.  In fact, Century eventually became a strictly plastics operation and stopped its franchising of school records all together.  But not before creating a library of unique no-frills LPs for amateur tin-ear archeologists to unearth and revive.

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In our unrelenting mission to rescue junked albums, we first ran into these LPs in thrift store bargain bins. They usually have a pretty generic cover with a distinctive sketch of the Century Records Building on the back. Some of the tracks are are pretty good, though we prefer the cuts with plenty of rough around the edges. These numbers illustrate the beauty of the Century Record concept: everyone can get a shot at being a recording artist and have the LP to prove it!

Such dillies include Alameda High School Band’s version of Greensleeves on yellow vinyl, the Byrd Junior High 1964 Band’s medley of hits from West Side Story, and the Wilson Junior High School Chorus’ 1967 rendition of the Impossible Dream. Standards like these become instant entertainment in a way that karaoke never could be.

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A few years ago, it dawned on us that we might be able to find the Century building as sketched on the back of the LPs– after all, Saugus is practically in our own backyard. Armed with a map, some Century LPs, and a camera, we headed north on Highway 5. We were certain this distinctive looking building would be easy to spot. No such luck.

We showed the LP to the owners of a local coffee shop, several gas station attendants, and even the woman on duty at the historical society.  No one had heard of the place let alone seen this building. Everyone was really nice though, and the historical society lady even thanked us for educating her about her own town. Alas Century Records was obsolete– erased from the local memory and urban landscape. We’ll just have to turn to the turntable for solace in Wilson Junior High’s The Impossible Dream.