Teen strikes balance between old and new — with talent to spare
Updated: May 16
Vintage machinery in a Southtowns bowling alley
allows ‘Joe the Pro’ to build a YouTube following
Joey Dayer was only five years old when his mother enrolled him in junior bowling through a school program. He doesn’t have clear memories of his first visit to Brierwood Lanes in Hamburg, but adults recall that he sat alone and pouted, reluctant to participate.
How things have changed in the past dozen years.
You may not know Dayer, but thousands of online viewers do, thanks to his YouTube channel, Joe the Pro.
Dayer, a 17-year-old senior at Frontier High School, regularly invites an online audience behind the scenes at the same bowling alley where he first picked up a ball. Now called Cloverbank Bowling, Dayer has been a regular there since seventh grade, learning the ins and outs of sixty-year-old machines that set and count pins. In livestreams and short videos, he explains the inner workings of things like conveyors and curtain assemblies, sharing images and explanations that most casual bowlers never see.
Even if you aren’t a bowler, Dayer’s videos are revealing. Here is a 3-minute sample:
“Nobody really knows how to operate this stuff anymore,” Dayer said. “It’s pretty rare. I started learning about it when I was young. Everybody is always shocked by how much I know. I’m still learning, obviously. But the videos basically show how everything works.”
Cloverbank’s alleys date back to 1959. The original equipment remains intact and operational. Part of Dayer’s job is to keep everything running. He has repaired and rebuilt every pinsetter. Last summer, he disassembled the machines, loaded them onto a dolly, and moved them to the parking lot, where they were cleaned and power washed before being oiled and reinstalled. Working in blocks of four lanes at a time, the entire process spanned several days. Dayer estimates that he spent more than 36 hours disconnecting and reconnecting all the leads.
“It’s a lot of upkeep, honestly,” Dayer reflected. “There aren’t many places that run these machines anymore. I’m really the only one who’s responsible for maintaining them. Fixing things is done through trial and error. When something breaks down, you learn from that. Because of their age, it can be tough to get parts.”
Spare Time, a bowling alley in Cheektowaga, used similar machines until 2019. When they discarded their old pinsetters, Dayer and his boss salvaged what they could.
“Most of their stuff was lying in the parking lot,” Dayer said. “We pulled many parts, just to have things on hand.”
‘Trusted at 12’
Pete Cambio owns Cloverbank Bowling, leasing the lanes that house his business. Cambio’s father also worked in bowling around Western New York, introducing his son to the business nearly 50 years ago. Now 63, Cambio works alongside his own son, also named Pete, and hired Dayer as a pin chaser several years ago. He recalled the day when Dayer showed up as a kindergartener.
“He didn’t want to bowl at first,” Cambio recalled. “Kids get like that. I told his mother, ‘Let him stick it out for a couple weeks. He’ll start to have fun.’”
It didn’t take long for Dayer to develop a passion.
“It was almost right away,” Cambio said. “He watched and was always very alert to what was going on around him. If there was something wrong with a lane, he’d be the first to tell me. As he got older, I started showing him the back. He would walk there with me to see what was going on, and he was always interested. By the time he was 11 or 12, he started looking up videos on the internet. He’d share information he saw on websites about different machines.”
Lisa Barber-Dayer, Joe’s mother, noticed her son’s fascination with mechanics at an early age.
“He was interested in how the garage door opener worked,” she recalled. “And it wasn’t just that. The lawnmower, snowblowers… he was just infatuated with those things. He was only five or six years old.”
Today, Dayer spends 20 hours each week working at Cloverbank Bowling. He oils lanes, helps coordinate league play, and chases pins. Sometimes, if a metal part is broken, he takes it to school to have it welded during shop class.
“He’s very handy and mechanically inclined,” Cambio noted. “He’s the person who stays on top of repairs. Bowling is a big community, and we all help each other. Sometimes people ask him about how to fix certain things, and he has answers for people who are stuck.”
Has Cambio ever taken pause to realize that his chief mechanic — tasked with upkeep of vintage equipment that is vital to business — is only 17 years old?
“I’ll be honest,” he laughed, “I could have trusted him with all this when he was 12. He’s very interested and dependable.”
“He’s not your typical teenager,” Barber-Dayer agreed. “My garage is full of motorized things. There are so many parts that there’s no room left for me. I don’t even know what all these things are. He’s got parts to fix lawnmowers and snowblowers. That’s his side business in the summer. Any kid in the neighborhood who needs a bike fixed comes to Joe. He likes to work. He works hard, and he’s very driven. ”
Walk to the back of the lanes — amid the peppered sounds of balls hitting a backstop and the loud growl of turning motors— and Dayer points to each piece of equipment, explaining its purpose and the nuances required to keep it running.
“There’s an invisible beam that goes across the lane here,” he explained. “When the ball passes through the beam, that’s what causes the machine to cycle. The sweep passes down and the table will set up the new pins. It will start the wheel again and reset the pins. After the first ball, the table will come down, pick up the standing pins, sweep off any pins still laying there, and then deposit them exactly where they were standing.”
A few feet away, he stops before a giant metal wheel, the size of something found on a monster truck, describing how pins are fed into a distributor.
“Pins are pushed into this conveyor,” he said. “This counter keeps track of the number of pins that pass through here. Each of these re-spot cells picks up the pin. There are supposed to be 20 pins in every machine so there are always 10 waiting.”
Nearby, leaning against a wall, are several long planks the width of a bowling alley.
“This is the curtain assembly,” Dayer said. “This is what stops the ball when it comes off the pin deck. There are 16 rivets on each curtain that pull it all together. There’s a sponge, there’s a rubber piece, then there is felt on the front. This is a shock absorber spring. They used to be made out of maple, but it looks like a fabricated material now. On rare occasions, they’ll split in the middle of league play, so it’s always helpful to have one ready to go in case you need a quick replacement.”
Behind the lanes is a concrete block workshop, the size of a spacious walk-in closet, filled with tools, WD-40, oils and extra supplies. Above the door is a sign reading Joe the Pro. Dayer keeps the workshop clean and organized. A portable video recorder, with a strap that fits over his head, lays within easy access on the wooden bench.
“This is where I work on everything,” Dayer noted. He is always prepared to film the next repair. “I leave my GoPro camera sitting there. If I get a call for a lane, I throw this on my head, press the record button, and record whatever I’m doing. I can save that to my phone and edit when I’m done.”
Aiding a resurgence
Dayer began a YouTube channel while he was in middle school. At first, he posted videos of himself riding dirt bikes or skateboarding. But two years ago, he recorded himself bowling, setting up a camera five feet from the head pin.
"It was just me bowling a few frames,” Dayer said. “It’s still one of my most popular uploads, with 13,000 views. I’m not sure why that one struck out so much from the others, but that’s what started it for me.”
Dayer realized he had stumbled upon interesting content. With his GoPro, he began filming behind-the-scenes vignettes, showing what happens in parts of an alley that few get to see.
“Since November, things have just exploded,” he said. “It can be tough to know what content to put on a video. I take what I was interested in when I was little, like how the machines work, and try to recreate that. Sometimes a subscriber will send an email or comment on a video with a certain suggestion, and I’ll film that.”
Viewers for Joe the Pro are a mix of Dayer’s friends, and random bowlers who tune in once, then become regulars. Most Sunday nights, Dayer hosts a livestream from Cloverbank Lanes, answering questions and taking requests, along with his friends Chad Joseph, Zak Slomba, and John Schaff.
People watching the livestream will comment, or request a challenge. Joseph, 39, a volunteer coach at Cloverbank Bowling, monitors the chat to be sure no one posts anything inappropriate.
“I act as a moderator, in case we get any bots or spam,” Joseph explained. “We haven’t ever had anyone using vulgar language in the chat, but if that were to happen, I can delete it. We’re family friendly and don’t do anything vulgar or stupid.”
The most popular request from viewers is trying to convert a 7-10 split.
“Nobody really does the sort of stuff that I do,” Dayer said. “It’s not such a popular topic on YouTube. Part of it is the vintage equipment we have. The main interest of viewers is the machinery.”
Cambio believes the channel serves as another avenue to help grow the sport. Statistics show that bowling has decreased in popularity during the past 25 years. According to USA Today, “From 1998-2013, the number of bowling alleys in the U.S. fell to 3,976 from 5,400, or by about 26%.”
“I haven’t watched [Joe the Pro] a lot,” he said. “But I think it's good to have. He started out with 200 followers, and his goal was to get to 1000 subscribers. He did that within a year. Now he’s got quite a following, and everyone seems to have fun with it.”
“It took a while to get to 1000 subscribers,” Joseph agreed. “But once we did that, we got to 1500 really quickly. We try to cater to what viewers want.”
Away from the lanes, Dayer is serious as well. He has missed only two days of high school, and both were connected with being a member of the Frontier varsity bowling team. In February, the team competed in sectionals during a weekday, and in March, the team traveled to Syracuse for the State championship. Being away from the classroom left him feeling unsettled.
“I just don’t like not being there,” he said. “It bothers me if I miss work or get behind. I haven’t been absent a single day since I was in elementary school. I like being around people, and high school is a really cool place. I want to enjoy it while it lasts. Having lived through Covid shutdowns, I appreciate school more.”
Dayer will graduate in June, with plans to attend Hilbert College to study business. He will remain in Buffalo to stay active in the community, perhaps even owning a bowling alley in the future.
“I want to try to grow the channel as much as we can,” he said. “Other YouTubers get millions of subscribers for their videos. You have to have a certain number of watch hours and at least 1000 subscribers, but there are people who make a living off YouTube.”
While some have sounded the death knell for bowling, Dayer believes the sport is alive and well.
“From what I see and hear, it’s coming back,” he observed. “One of the goals of Joe the Pro is to help bring it back. A lot of kids go on YouTube. If the videos are interesting enough, people are going to watch.”
Text © 2023 by Jeff Schober
Click here to visit the YouTube channel "Joe the Pro," where Dayer has more than 2000 members.
Jeff Schober has a journalism degree from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in English and History from the University at Buffalo. He teaches English and Journalism at Frontier High School and is the best-selling author of ten books, including the true crime book Bike Path Rapist with Det. Dennis Delano, and the Buffalo Crime Fiction Quartet. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.
Steve Desmond is an award-winning photographer. With his son, Francis, he is the author of A Life of Purpose, which raises money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. To view more of Steve's work, search Facebook under "Steve Desmond" and "Desmond's PrimeFocus Photography," or on Instagram at "Stevedesmond9."
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