Skip Bierman has seen a lot of bowling alleys in his days.
The 32-year old Omaha native has visited 825 across the U.S. and Canada, and has bowled in every state except Hawaii. Bierman's latest stop was the duckpin bowling alley in Potter, which means he has now bowled at every bowling alley in Nebraska.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said after bowling a couple games Friday night in Potter. "Wherever we travel, at least the bowling shoes always come with, because it saves us on having to rent shoes."
Bierman found out about the Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley while searching the Internet. He had previously bowled duckpin, which originated in Baltimore, Md., in several states on the east coast and in Canada. When he found out about the Potter bowling alley, Bierman was more than intrigued.
"This is like heaven to me. This is awesome. I feel like a kid in a candy store, I really do," he said. "I've always wondered what it would've been like to bowl in a place where you had to set pins by hand and keep score by hand, all that stuff. Everybody goes to your bowling alley nowadays and it's computerized and kids have no idea what it's like to keep score."
The Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley was open for much of the first half of the last century, until it closed in 1951. It reopened in 2004 with help from the Potter Historical Foundation, community members and the Enevoldsen family, which owns the building. Many Potter-Dix High School students also helped with refurbishment efforts.
Duckpin bowling differs from 10-pin bowling in that the pins are smaller, and so are the bowling balls. The bowling balls, which can fit in one hand, do not have holes for fingers as the ones in 10-pin bowling.
The bowling alley, which sits on the second floor above A Collective Gathering on Chestnut Street, is not open on a regular schedule, but can be rented for parties and other events. It is the lone duckpin bowling alley open west of the Mississippi River.
It certainly caught the eye of Bierman, who has visited many bowling alleys all across the country.
"This is awesome. I wish there was something like this back home that I could share with people. This is a page out of like the '40s. It really is," Bierman said.
Bierman's obsession with bowling came naturally. He hung out at the bowling alley growing up while his family bowled, and eventually picked up the sport himself. He started bowling competitively as a freshman in high school and has not stopped since. He once bowled as many as six nights a week, but has cut that down to just one or two nights a week. While a member of his high school's web design team, Bierman combined that with an Omaha history class he took and made a website on the history of bowling alleys in the city.
"I made a 17-page web page on the history of bowling alleys in Omaha," he said. "There's a lot of people back home who talk to me because they know I'm knowledgeable of the past."
Bierman's idea of bowling at all the bowling alleys in the state also started early. The idea came from a tournament in Kearney during his freshman year in high school.
"I bowled really, really well. I shot like 730 for three games," he said. "My teammates all bowled absolutely terrible. We were just on the border of getting to come back the next day. And so I go, 'You know what guys, I bowled great and you guys all bowled like poop. We are going to go somewhere and we are going to bowl all night, and I'm going to make you guys better.'"
It was close, but the team made the cut. However, they still took to the bowling alleys to practice in Minden, Hastings and Holdrege.
"We closed the place down at Holdrege at 2 o'clock in the morning. We had to bowl the next morning at 8 back in Kearney," Bierman said.
Bierman said everyone on the team bowled well the next day.
"We're driving back home and we finished like fourth," he said. "I was like, 'We should stop at every bowling alley that's within 25 miles of the interstate...We should.' I get home and I'm like, 'Why would I want to stop at 25 miles?' I get the map and I'm like, 'If we do this, we'll leave out these three towns or these four towns. You know what, why not do all of them?'"
Bierman and his friend, Chance, started the trek to visit every bowling alley in the state in 2002. They completed the task in 2006, or so they thought. Bierman later found out about the Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley, and knew he had to visit it.
"Chance and I have talked about doing this, like, 'Oh, we've got a weekend free. Just not quite enough time.' It's not something that you want to sit around for five minutes and turn around and drive back. It's six hours away. The fact that we were driving right past it, I had to stop, I had to see this. It's so awesome," Bierman said.
Bierman and his wife, Christi, were on their way from Omaha to Denver en route to the bowling nationals when they stopped in Potter Friday night. They flew from Denver to Los Angeles, where they caught college baseball games over the weekend, and then drove to Arizona to catch Major League Baseball spring training games. From there, they were set to drive to El Paso for the bowling nationals held the middle of this week, before returning along the same route they traveled - complete with additional baseball games.
The man whose license plate reads "lv2bowl" said his passions include bowling, baseball and traveling. The Biermans' basement proves it, with maps and lists of every bowling alley he has visited, baseballs from many college and professional games, and a football helmet for every football stadium they have visited.
"We'll take road trips and watch 10 baseball games and hit 20 bowling alleys all in a two-week period," he said. "It's always been my life."
Bierman has bowled at nationals 12 of the last 13 years. He only missed bowling at nationals in 2009 due to a car accident on the way to Las Vegas.
One thing he laments is the changes in the sport since he was growing up. Many bowling alleys across the country have closed. He estimates that of the 825 bowling alleys he has visited, 300 are now closed. Bierman added that of the 149 bowling alleys he and his friend visited in their quest to bowl at every one in the state, there were only 126 left by the time they finished. Now, he said there are only 61 open in the state.
"Bowling is dying so, so rapidly," he said. "The bowling alley in North Platte had 32 lanes, and they took out 12 lanes. They put in an arcade. You can't just have a bowling alley anymore. You have to have place for kids to spend money. There's been a lot of changes in bowling.
"From when I was a kid when I watched my mom bowl to what it is now, it's totally different."
His full-time job is a deli manager at Hy-Vee grocery store, but Bierman still finds time to work in a bowling alley. He said he enjoys bowling and talking to bowlers too much not to do so.
Hal Enevoldsen, left, and Jett Enevoldsen are ready to set the pins on Friday night at the Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley.
"Anywhere I find, if someone says there is a new bowling alley or there's a new style of bowling alley or anything, I want to be one of the first people there. I want to see it and I want to do it," he said. "My mom has one-upped me as far as travels. She and my uncle have actually bowled on a cruse ship. When I heard about that, I was just like, 'I have to do that.'"
That attitude is one of the things that led him to Potter Friday night, to visit the second story duckpin bowling alley that was recreated after more than half a century of being dormant. Bierman said it would not be his last trip to Potter, to visit the duckpin bowling alley that is the only one of its kind in the western half of the United States.
"We really appreciate everyone letting us come out and bowl. This is a lot of fun," he said.