Happy Trails to You…Remembering AMF Rocket Bowl, And Roy Rogers

by Dave Williams

A recent article in Bowlers Journal Magazine, “Bowling and the Bicentennial,” by former California Bowling News Editor Bob Johnson, brought back many fond memories of the 200th year anniversary of the USA, when bowling was at an all-time high in adult and youth bowling league membership.

Mr. Johnson went on to catalog many of the achievements that were garnered in 1976, including the highest number of sanctioned leagues, individual membership records, the National Bowling Council’s Bicentennial Spectacular, and the appointment of Roy Rogers as the honorary chairman of the Bowlers Victory Legion (BVL).

(l to r) Dale Evans, Trigger and Roy Rogers appear in this 1952 photo at the Chatsworth Ranch (Eagle Beak Rock in the background). AP Photo, Courtesy St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Rogers, known as the “King of the Cowboys,” was also a pretty fair country bowler, and resided in Chatsworth, California, just a few city blocks from AMF Rocket Bowl. I remember one of my first visits to Rocket Bowl, when I was speaking to League Coordinator Carl Ritter about all of the industrial and retail business around the iconic bowling center near the intersection of Nordhoff and De Soto Avenue.

Now I’m not sure how our conversation got around to Roy Rogers, but Carl happened to mention that Mr. Rogers would be bowling there later that evening if I wanted to meet him. As we chatted about league business and Carl’s total commitment to phone solicitation, in the mold of his mentor Herb “Judge” Roth… in walked Roy Rogers, in what appeared to be a King Louie Bowling Shirt with an AMF Single Ball Bowling Bag!

Roy couldn’t have been much more than 5 feet 9 inches tall (5’10” with his cowboy boots), but his physical height paled in comparison to his monumental character. I reached out to shake his hand, and that patented smile came upon his face. Although I wanted to talk with him for hours, I could see that he was intent on enjoying his bowling experience, so I returned to my conversation with Mr. Ritter.

Rocket Bowl would become my home for a couple of years, as I journeyed up and down the west coast of the United States, creating new leagues primarily from a “free bowling party” concept. Dan Rochin, the West Coast Regional Supervisor for AMF, allowed me to share his office, since both of us spent the majority of our time on the road.

For those that did not know Mr. Rochin, he is most remembered in the bowling world for his creation of the “Brunswick caricature” logo. Rochin combined this traditional symbol with the words “Brunswick Recreation Centers,” and the letters “BRC” inside the logo’s bowling ball to formulate the moniker for the Bowling Center Division of Brunswick.

A giant AMF Bowling Centers logo greeted patrons near the main entrance of Rocket Bowl, which closed in 2009.

Years later I faced a similar situation when AMF was purchased by CCA Industries, a firm that already had a chain of bowling centers known as Major League Bowling. I eventually convinced Mr. Beverley Armstrong, managing partner for the bowling centers, that the AMF symbol was synonymous with the game of bowling, so we kept the letters AMF. I used the “bowling ball and pin burst” design from the MLB logo and enlarged the “AMF Magic Triangle” as a backdrop for the ball and pins. Although I never thought about it until writing this article, there’s no question that Rochin’s experience influenced my design, one that Bowlero continues to use for their AMF locations after 33 years.

When Dan had a chance to leave the frigid Chicago winters (where Brunswick’s headquarters was located), he jumped at the opportunity to become the Western Regional Supervisor for the rapidly growing AMF Bowling Centers. Dan often would tell me, “Dave, never forget that happiness is the distance from the home office.” (AMF’s Corporate Headquarters was in New York!)

As AMF’s first National Promotion Specialist, a title that was created to fit my expertise, the general rule of thumb was to go out into the community and promote “free bowling parties” to large groups of people. My biggest successes were with manufacturing and retail stores. Whenever AMF sent me to a new location, the first things on my list to look up in the Yellow Pages were K-Mart and Toys ‘R Us, along with obtaining a list of industrial companies from the Chamber of Commerce.

Once the free parties were scheduled, it was also my job to entertain the group and try to coerce them into a short term, lower priced, introductory league. It was wildly successful, even though my success rate was about a 50% return on the number of parties booked. I remember at one point apologizing to Tom Gard, another Regional Supervisor for AMF, on the spotty results and small size of the resulting leagues.

Tom, who at one point ran the Brunswick Manager’s Training School, before joining AMF Bowling Centers, put me at ease. Gard said that he had never known a person in our industry that was so successful at converting new prospects to league bowers. He also said, “All of those six and eight team short-season leagues add up to a lot of new business, and on paper it looks like I’ve just added a new 40 team league for an entire season.” That was all the motivation that I needed to work night and day, seven days a week, promoting the game that I love.

While I was at home in my office at Rocket Bowl, I did have occasion to check out the Roy Rogers residence and Trigger Street, named after Roy’s famous horse. By this time the 300 acre ranch had been subdivided into primarily 1 acre plots, but a segment had been retained for filming western movies. Included in that saved portion of the ranch are the famous Eagle Beak Rock and The Lone Ranger Rock.

In that same area of Chatsworth is the old Rocketdyne Test Site, where the Atlas Rocket was perfected. Although Rocket Bowl originally opened as Comet Lanes, a marketing guru at AMF decided to rename it Rocket Bowl when AMF acquired the property, in order to attract some of the more than 9,000 Rocketdyne employees stationed in Chatsworth. Their idea worked, as many employees joined leagues and made the Stardust Cocktail Room inside Rocket Bowl their “watering hole.”

So now whenever you are driving along De Soto Avenue in Chatsworth, and you notice a McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks all lined in a row, you will know that you are on hallowed ground, where bowlers like Roy Rogers, Jay and Cheryl Robinson, and Hank Lauman once made their mark upon the community of Chatsworth at AMF Rocket Bowl.