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01-29-2005, 12:58 AM
Taking their cue from players who've come before them, afficionados of 3-cushion billiards keep a little-known game going in Wapello
By Connie Street of the Muscatine Journal
http://www.muscatinejournal.com/articles/2005/01/29/news/news3.txt

WAPELLO, Iowa - On weekday afternoons, a few good men play three-cushion billiards at The Hot Shot Pool Hall.

Well, maybe they aren't so good, to hear how they tease each other about their skill, or lack of it, at playing the historic game. There is little conversation among the old friends, but plenty of laughter between shots.

At the very least, they have fun and keep alive an old table game that few people play anymore.

Playing the game takes concentration, according to Frank Grasham, 75, who learned the game in 1990 when he retired from his construction job.

"I found it intriguing," Grasham said. He generally plays three afternoons a week.

Three-cushion billiards is played with a cue on a 10-foot table with a 3-inch-thick slate covered with green felt. Sound like pool?

Almost, but there are no pockets in the table and only three balls are used, two white balls and one red. One of the white balls has a black spot on it and is called the black ball or cue ball.

Players or teams earn one point each time they hit a successful combination shot involving all the balls and three cushions. Ten points wins the game. The loser or losing team pays the pool hall for the time it takes to play each game - 5 cents per minute or 4 cents for seniors, the going rate in Wapello.

The game can be played by individuals or in two-person teams.

At the Wapello pool hall, the players roll numbered peas from a shaker bottle to choose partners. Peas are similar to dice. They have numbers up to 16. The person who gets the pea with the lowest number gets to break. His partner is the person with the largest number.

Barbara Reid, whose brother, Keith "Red" Messer, owns the pool hall, embroiders while she works and the men play.

"The table was built in 1936 and was brought to the Farmer's Tap in 1955," Reid recalls. "My father ran the place at the time."

When the Farmer's Tap closed, the table went to a private club in Wapello. It was returned to public use eight years ago when Messer opened the pool hall, which is big enough for a billiard table, a pool table, a small bar and a few chairs.

According to Reid, the game, which was extremely popular in the 1950s and '60s, is dying out.

Reid said there are a few guys in their 20s and 30s who play the game but the younger men mostly play pool.

"It is an old game," Reid said of billiards. "The older guys taught these guys and the older guys are all gone now."

"'Gone' doesn't mean they went to Florida," chimed in billiards player Daryl Hartsock. "They are long dead."

Three-cushion billiards is a man's game - at least in Wapello. Reid said she has seen only one woman play.

"There is a place in Mount Pleasant with a billiards table," Reid said. "As far as we know, there aren't any others around."

That means no such thing as area tournaments - just afternoons of concentration and fun among friends.

Mark Morris, known as Murph, said playing billiards helps a person's pool game.

"You learn the breakout shots and where the ball will go," Morris said.

Contact Connie Street at: 319-527-8164 or mailto:ckcasey@louisacomm.net