Now, friends, let me tell you what I mean.
You got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table.
Pockets that mark the differences,
Between a gentleman and a bum,
With a capital “B”.
And that rhymes with “P”,
And that stands for Pool!
(From the song, “Ya Got Trouble”, by Meredith Willson in “The Music Man”)
So I’m standing over a pool table at the Doncaster Hotel in Kensington, Australia trying to remember how to shoot a three-cushion bank shot. If I can make this shot, I’ll be in good shape to win my fourth straight game of eight-ball, which is no small feat since I haven’t played any pool for a number of years. It is July of 2010 and I’m searching back in the memory of my youth for the proper angles to make the shot. I have made the shot many times before on the pool tables at Mac’s Pool Hall in La Farge, but that was nearly fifty years ago, when learning to play pool was a part of a boy’s growing-up. After sizing up the tricky shot some more, I make the call of the three-cushion shot in the far corner and draw back the cue. The cue ball strikes the 13-ball and that brightly colored ball begins its circuit around the table; one cushion, then a second and a third before it heads for the called corner pocket. The small crowd gathered in the hotel’s pool table room inch forward to see if the orange-striped ball would fall in the pocket. As it slowly approaches the called pocket, . . .
If you were a boy growing up in La Farge during my time, there was a pretty good chance that you would know how to play pool. My time to learn to play pool in La Farge was in the 1950s and ‘60s, but young lads had learned the game in the village’s pool halls for generations before my friends and I came along. By the time my learning of the finer aspects of pool shooting was experienced, the lone pool hall in the village was Mac’s Pool Hall.
Mac Marshall had started the pool hall at that spot on La Farge’s Main Street in the 1940s, perhaps shortly after his hotel had burned down in 1942. When his son, Mac Marshall Jr., returned from serving in World War II, he ran the pool hall for several years before becoming postmaster. For the next thirty years, the business was rented out to various men who operated the pool hall in that premises. During most of those years, there were three pool tables in the building and several tables for card playing in the back room. The card room was an adults-only area, off limits to anyone under the age of eighteen. There was an age limit on pool shooting as well, which varied from 12 to 16 years of age, depending on the particular time in La Farge’s history that one views.
I think that the La Farge village board lowered the age for pool playing from 14 years of age to 12 about the time that I turned that younger age. I seem to remember that “Carp” Lowrey was running the pool hall then and asked and received the change from La Farge’s village board. There were quite a number of us “town boys” at that younger age, so the rule change swelled the customer base for the pool hall. My friends and I rushed to Carp’s pool hall to take advantage of the change in age requirements and become masters of the art of shooting pool.
We plunged into games of “Rotation”, “8-Ball” and the trickiest of all of the basic games, “Bank”. The game of Bank was an adaptation of 8-Ball in which every other ball, including the eight ball had to be made with a called bank shot. Bank required a higher level of shot-making expertise and strategic planning than the more basic games of pool. As a youngster starting to play the game, you learned the finer points of these pool games in a variety of ways. That education could often be accompanied by the emptying out of the change in your pockets, as you often had to pay for the lessons by paying for the games you lost.
The pool game of Bank cost more to play, a dime per game compared to the nickel charged for Rotation or 8-Ball, and the cost could accumulate fast as you lost and learned how to play the game with the older players. But the real education in the game of Bank came when you played partner Bank, two against two, with the old-timers. Each of the elderly players would have a youngster as a partner. The veterans could control the outcome of the games as they passed on the nuances of playing the angles of bank shots, positioning the cue ball for the next shot and playing defense against the opposition. On a Saturday afternoon, when Grover Hamilton came down from West Lima and Otis Arms came over from Valley, the old friends often taught the game to La Farge youngsters. I was fortunate to be involved in a few of those Saturday afternoon lessons in the finer aspects of playing Bank. Besides the lessons learned for the younger players, it was also a social time for the teachers. By controlling the game, the elders could share the week’s news as the lessons were taught. They could make the games go on forever as they manipulated the cue ball into hopeless situations for the next shooter. Scratches meant pulling a made ball from the pockets and putting it back in play, thus extending the game and the lesson some more.
I have many fond memories of my experiences in Mac’s Pool Hall over the years, but few seem so special to me now as those games of partner Bank with the elders of the game. There are many ways for a boy to learn about life while growing up in a small town like La Farge, and one of those ways might just be over a pool table. I am thankful for those who took the time to teach the lessons.
There is no longer a pool hall in La Farge. Mac’s Pool Hall closed sometime back in the 1980s. We think the last man to run the pool hall was Grover Hamilton, still trying to get people to play his favorite game of Bank. Others who ran that pool hall over the years included Ned Sewell, Ted Hammond, Bobby Kennedy, Theron Phillips and the previously mentioned Carp Lowery. When the pool hall was closed and the equipment sold off, it is said the pool tables ended up in Madison. The store space where the pool hall had been became the new site for the village’s library. It was a good use for the space, but not nearly as alluring to boys as the pool hall had been.
By the way, if you were wondering about that three-rail shot that was circling the table at the Doncaster Hotel, it went in the corner pocket just as I had called it. The small crowd then assembled murmured in disbelief. Now all I had to do was make the eight ball in the side pocket, which I had lined up pretty well with my leave of the cue ball. It was almost a straight-in shot, but in looking at the position of the two balls, I also saw an easy bank shot across to the other side. I made the tougher call for the bank shot and the black eight ball crossed the table and found its home to end the game. Some lessons are just not forgotten.
“The young man who can play a crackerjack game of billiards
usually is not good for much else.”
- La Farge Enterprise, January 28, 1909
I wish to thank Kay & David Mick, Shirley Marshall, Maxine Shird, Gary Hamilton, Blaine and Mark Phillips and others for their help with this story. If you would like to help with this little history project on La Farge, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 202, La Farge 54639.
If you want to order signed copies of my books, the prices are $19 for a copy of the book on the La Farge dam project, $25 for a copy of volume I of the history of La Farge or $40 for both books. Mailing and shipping costs are included in all prices.