Myth Trivia: Bowling, St. Bernards and Cable Cars

Myth Trivia: Bowling, St. Bernards and Cable Cars

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The answers to all those burning trivia questions


CHARLOTTE, N.C., Oct. 14, 2015 – It’s “hump day” and that means trivia, so let’s get to it.

1 – What is “Pin Money?”: Old-timers will recognize this, while youngsters will not, but the origin is still interesting. Back when bowling alleys were smoke-filled, beer parlors, there was no such thing as automatic pin-setters. Bowling pins were actually reset by youngsters sitting at the back of the lanes to clear the pins.

Good pin-setters could handle two lanes at once, and when a bowler finished his games he would throw a couple of quarters down the alley as a tip for the spotter.

While that popularized the term “pin money,” however, the actual phrase originated even earlier in the American Revolution.

When the Continental Congress ran out of silver and gold for currency, the government would make money out of cardboard. Cardboard was abundant for minting, but it was also brittle and broke easily. Since Scotch Tape had not yet been invented, colonists would pin the broken pieces together and that became the genesis of “pin money.”

While the process worked more than two hundred years ago, chances are that saving the cardboard from your shirts when they come back from the dry cleaners is probably a waste of time in the 21st century.

2 – San Francisco’s cable cars are the only mobile national monuments: This bit of information is the real reason we call this weekly column “Myth Trivia,” because the beloved modes of transportation in San Francisco are NOT national monuments, much less “mobile” national monuments.

This is a relatively common misconception regarding San Francisco’s famous cable cars, but national monuments are federally protected AREAS similar to a national park but on a much smaller scale. Examples would be Devil’s Tower, Fort Sumter and the Aztec Ruins in New Mexico.

Of more than 80,000 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places, fewer than 25,000 are considered National Historic Landmarks.

Adding even more inaccuracy, there are several railroads and ships that also have designations as National Landmarks.

Cable cars were invented by Andrew Smith Hallidie in 1873. Hallidie lived in San Francisco and created the system as a conveyance for mining companies. The cable cars were the dominant mode of transportation in the city for more than 30 years and actually survived the San Francisco earthquake and fires in 1906.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hallidie’s invention was that he conceived the idea in 1869 while witnessing horses being whipped as they struggled to pull carriages up the wet cobblestones of Jackson Street.

In the end, cable cars were invented, thereby eliminating the horsing around in San Francisco.

3 – A brief history of St. Bernards: The St. Bernard breed of dog has justifiably earned its name thanks to a long history of rescue work in the snowy Alps of Switzerland. These “Hospice Hounds” have been around for more than 200 years, and their heroic efforts have saved over 2,000 people thanks to their uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold.

St. Bernards came into use as rescue dogs in the early 18th century, when monks living in the dangerous San Bernardino Pass in Switzerland used them following bad snowstorms. The San Bernardino Pass, or the St Bernard Pass, is a 49-mile western alpine route linking Switzerland with Italy. Due to its elevation, the pass is snow-free only a couple of months during the summer.

The St. Bernard breed dates to sometime between 1660 and 1670, when they were acquired by the monks at Great St. Bernard Hospice. The ancestors of St. Bernards were brought to Switzerland by the Romans to serve as both watchdogs and companions. Two paintings by Italian artist Salvatore Rosa in 1695 offer depictions of the dogs as they appeared centuries ago.

Today’s St. Bernards are larger than their cousins, which also had shorter reddish brown and white fur and a longer tail.

One of the amazing aspects of these canines is their ability to locate travelers buried in the snow and to dig through the accumulation. The dogs traveled in pairs, and, when they discovered a victim, one would lie on the injured person to provide warmth while the other would return to the hospice for help.

So effective and organized was the rescue system that, when Napoleon crossed the Alps between 1790 and 1810 with an army of a quarter of a million men, not a single soldier lost his life!

One legend that appears to be untrue is that a cask of liquor was strapped around the dog’s necks to warm travelers during a rescue. No historical records confirm that practice.

Just remember, next time you are hiking in a blizzard in Switzerland, forget your GPS and take a St. Bernard instead.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.