HISTORY / RECORDS
How it all began...
Floods Roll A Strike at Dream of Bowling Lanes Operator
Wilkes-Barre--- With dust in
his hair and dirt on his face, he stands in the ruins of his bowling alley.
Seven days a week from 8 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night, John Chacko
middle-aged and muscular, rips down walls and pulls up floors. He is finishing
what the Susquehanna River started. The flood left nothing in his bowling alley
that can ever be used again. “Not even a nail” Chacko says in the voice of a
Master Of His Fate?
On the rainy afternoon of Thursday, June 22, Chacko has destiny by the scruff of the neck, he figured. Sitting at a desk in the Franklin Federal Bank, writing a check for $40,000, he felt deep satisfaction and pride.
After 15 years of
working at two jobs, he would now be in business for himself. He has made the
down payment on this bowing alley called Jimmy’s Central Lanes.
Jimmy’s Central Lanes was on Wilkes-Barre’s South Main Street, a fine location downtown. The owner, a man named Jimmy DeMattis, had been wanting to retire, but he also wanted a reliable buyer, and he admired Chacko’s industry, as everyone did.
By day Chacko worked as a foreman in a weaving mill and at night was an assistant to a bowling alley proprietor in competition with Jimmy. He intended to stay on at the mill. He would need the help of his wife and their two sons to run his bowling alley, but this could be managed, he was sure.
The papers signed, the check handed over to Jimmy, Chacko went home to Swoyersville, across the river, full of plans. He was impatient for Friday to come.
Friday would be the day that Jimmy’s Central Lanes became Chacko’s Central Lanes.
Friday could not come soon enough. John Chacko thought, but he was mistaken.
Friday came agonizingly early, at 3:30am when his telephone rang.
The Swoyersville police were asking for sandbags and strong backs down by the levee. With astonishing swiftness, the river has been rising all night, and in just a matter of hours it would be spilling over the dike.
Went to Work
Chacko lives about a mile from the dike. He was lifting sandbags at 4 o’clock. He would not get to bed again until Monday.
While there was still any reason for it, Chacko lifted sandbags or raced from one end of the dike to the other in pickup truck loaded with sandbags.
When the river overflowed and the water hit the streets, Chacko made trips in a motorboat, going from house to house in search of the trapped.
Sometime Friday morning he was able to get his own family moved up the hill to the four-room house of a sister-in-law, a house that in the following weeks would be a haven for 15 people.
When the dike above the Forty Fort cemetery split open, Chacko was driving past in a truck. He heard shouts of “It broke!” He saw the water pour through ripping up coffins and tombstones.
“Everything gave way,” Chacko says, still aghast. “I ran for my life. I thought it was the end of the world.”
In Swoyersville there are 7,000 homes and only a few escaped the flood, and Chacko is not among them. On the fourth say, he says, he went out the backyard of his sister-in-law’s house and started crying. He cried for 20 minutes and from that time on he has not been aware of having any emotions at all.
He took possession of his bowling alley one week after the water receded. The slime on the floor was eight inches deep. Chacko and some of his friends carried the stuff out by the bucketful 16 hours a day, John Chacko says…. “Without them I couldn’t have made it.”
The weaving mill where he worked is “completely gone,” he believes. “The building and machines are still standing there, but I don’t know if they’ll ever get the mud out.” Stripped of an income, Chacko now finds himself with a bowling alley to rebuild from the ground up and a $60,000 debt to pay off.
He inquired at the Small Business Administration’s emergency office about a one per cent loan. “The guy said to me, “How Much damage did you have?” I said, “here, I’ve got a bill on the pins, the machines and he alley,’ I showed it to him. He said, “You couldn’t have that much damage,” “I got mad and walked out,”
But Chacko will return- the next time accompanied by a lawyer.
And he is certain that inside of eight weeks the pins will be falling at Chacko’s Central Lanes. “It looks impossible.” He says, “but I’ll tell you want—don’t bet against me.”
As a mark of his confidence, Chacko allowed himself a night on the town last week. He drove up the river to Scranton and forgot all this troubles- at a bowling alley.
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