The Lowell Mountain wind turbines, twirling like giant gaunt pinwheels, are the newest spectacle along Route 58. But it’s the lone pyramid of bowling balls that folks traveling between Irasburg and Lowell have gawked at and pondered for the better part of a decade.
“People stop and take pictures, especially during foliage season,” reports Kevin Dumas, the pyramid’s engineer. “But no one’s ever come to the door and asked me about it.”
The five-foot-tall pyramid sits like a colorful, unlikely cairn next to the mountainous pass on the state road linking Route 100 to I-91. Dumas, who owns the adjoining house, says the monument is composed solely of bowling balls and gravity. There’s no glue or other bonding agent, just balls — 485 of them. They look like a temple of oversize gumballs resting on a bed of barbecue-colored mulch, situated where some homeowners might plant a bush or set out a couch they didn’t want.
Why station a pyramid of bowling balls so perilously close to the road? Bowling balls aren’t cheap when new — about $160 each, which might have made this a costly installation.
Luckily for Dumas, however, he happens to own the bowling alley in nearby Lowell, Missisquoi Lanes, and over his 24-year tenure he’s acquired a lot of retired equipment. Originally made of wood, the orbs are now manufactured from plastic (reactive resin, urethane or a combination thereof) and marketed with names ranging from sinister (Terror, Abduction, First Blood) to silly (Cute Witch, Captain Awesome, Monster Eyeball). At Missisquoi Lanes, each of these approximately 16-pound globes gets rolled at a crowd of pins again and again, tournament after tournament; eventually, they wear out and crack. Then what?
Dumas isn’t sure just when he started building his pyramid: “Five, eight, nine, 10 years [ago]?” he wonders. “Time flies.”
First, he made a base layer of six by six — 36 balls, half sunk in the ground to keep them from “squashing out” from the cumulative weight of the tiers he built next: five by five, four by four, three by three and two by two, capped off with a single ball.
There he stopped — but not for long. In the winter, Dumas’ 10-lane alley is really hopping. It hosts the Ethan Allen League and the Twin County Mix-Ups, with teams such as the Aces and the Black Knights. The youth league comes on Saturday morning, the seniors from Canada every Wednesday afternoon. With players on all 10 lanes, five or six people to a team, that’s 60 bowling balls hurtling toward the pins, each impact sounding like a muffled cannon blast. “I think it’s affected my hearing,” Dumas admits.
Sure, but his busy lanes also provide him with fodder.
A few years ago, Dumas widened the pyramid’s base to eight by eight balls, adding balls to balance out the upper tiers. A year later, the base became nine by nine — then, this past spring, 10 by 10. Dumas still had surplus balls. “I wasn’t going to go any bigger, so I made the little ones, the ‘sprouts,’” he says, referring to the four mini-pyramids that gird the main structure.
Dumas, a gently worn 50-year-old who grew up in Hyde Park, was 26 and out of work when his then-wife set him rolling on the path toward owning his current business. She was working as a bartender at both the Morrisville Bowl (now closed) and the Missisquoi Lanes, and she introduced Dumas to her boss. Dumas struck a deal to purchase the Lowell business from the Swanson family, which at the time also managed a third alley, Waterfront Lanes in Newport.
In 1995, Dumas built a house close to his business, on this Lowell hilltop property where he now lives with his second wife and stepdaughter.
When viewed from Dumas’ front porch, the pyramid seems to pay a multicolored tribute to the mountains beyond it. But is there a deeper significance to its shape?
Bowling aficionados may know that archaeologists have found ancient bowling-like paraphernalia in a child’s grave in Egypt and even discovered what appears to be a circa-200-to-300-AD bowling alley south of Cairo. As a result, some speculate that the ancient Egyptians invented bowling.
Is Dumas paying homage to the sport’s alleged origins? “Not necessarily,” he says.
Does he keep more bowling art inside his house? Balls installed in the foundation? An old racking machine in the kitchen? Nope, Dumas says: The tribute to his business stops at the end of the driveway.
But for drivers and bikers, the unexpected spectacle along Route 58 is where the fun begins. Some people stop for impromptu photo shoots, while others have relieved the pyramid of a few balls — a practice Dumas does not wish to encourage. On another occasion, an anonymous donor left three balls and a kind note by the front door — proving that passersby on Route 58 both take away and give.
A bonus of having the geometric pile on his property, Dumas says, is that “It’s handy if you ever want to give folks directions.”
Asked if he has plans for more expansion, Dumas shrugs and grins. “Nah … but I’m still trying to come up with something to do with the used pins.
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