John'Newt'Rule- A Man of Opportunity

Newt Rule pulled into his driveway, a homemade trailer hitched to the rear of his Ford, his hunting dog in the rumbleseat and his wife, Mary at his side. It had been a long winter, which he had spent fishing and hunting near Tarpon Springs Florida and the spring waterfowling season would be starting soon. Rule needed to get things ready. There was lots of work to do at his hunting club to prepare for the duck hunters that would be arriving. Tomorrow he would get out his decoys and check for leakers and broken bills.

John Newton Rule, called ‘Newt’ by all, was a lucky man. He earned a good living doing what he enjoyed most, hunting and fishing. He was born in Petersburg, Illinois on April 29, 1870, and as a young man, operate a livery stable in town with his brother, Dick until 1904. After that, drawn by the excellent hunting and fishing along the Illinois River, he moved to0 Beardstown with his wife, Mary Elizabeth (nee Kern), who he married on a trip to Chicago in 1895 and their daughter, Auverne.
Beardstown, located southwest of Peoria, was a premier hunting area at the turn of the century; situated at the end of the great Illinois River ‘Gut’, an area utilized by hundred of thousands of waterfowl during their bi-annual migrations. Just north of Beardstown, the Sangamon River empties into the Illinois River. Here a great watershed pooled to form several outstanding hunting lakes, include Muscooten Bay a favorite gunning spot of Rule’s. A cass County Chamber of Commerce pamphlet describes the town as “ the home of ducks, fish, watermelons, and sweet potatoes”. Rule lease 50 acres in the heart of Muscooten Bay and its surrounding marsh and established his Tree Top Lodge. He purchased an old paddleboat that had been drydocked after a drowning accident and propped it up on cement blocks to use as a clubhouse. The upper story housed sleeping quarters and the lower level provided a spacious clubroom. The Pilot room sat atop the second story and was a great spot for spotting ducks.
By the 1930’, Rule has leased another 160 acres and formed a partnership with his son-in-lsw Warren Smith. Their business card boasted “ Duck Shooting: 700 acres fed ground, the best to be had, two miles north of the city of Beardstown. Have eight pens, Accommodate ten to sixteen hunters per day. Write for particulars and date.” The reference to pens concerns the use of live decoys which was a common practice in those days.. The large chicken wire pens were built in the water off to the side of each blind and held a dozen or so English ‘calling’ mallards. Rule employed several locals as guides and pushers at his camp. The daily rate for gunners was $25 per day with a guaranteed full limit of 15 ducks. Most of the hunters were repeat customers from Chicago.
Rule made his own duck decoys in his garage. This workshop served as a gathering site for local hunters and fishermen. No doubt the conversations included tall tales of hunting and fishing exploits! Rule carved typical Illinois River style decoys with two-piece construction yet he was not known to have made any sleeper style decoys. He produced pintail, mallard and canvasback decoys until his death on December 20, 1949 The Rule decoys have their own special style. The cheeky head was finished with shoe button eyes and detailed bill. The deep bodies were hollow with a raised wing area running into a flattened tail. The decoys were painted in rich hues of oil paint mixed with white lead and linseed oil that Rule blended into subtle feathering patterns and later accented with bold feather details. The Bottoms were given an extra coat of heavy-duty marine paint. When thoroughly dried, the decoys were dipped in a pail of heated linseed oil to protect the paint and seal any fine leaks. The dipping process was repeated at the outset of each hunting season. There was a minnow pond just outside the garage where Rule would float his decoys to check the ballast so they would float correctly.
Rule sold decoys to local hunters at $60 per dozen. He also produced fine walnut duck calls that were turned on a homemade lathe attached to a one-horse power motor mounted to on his workbench. The calls varied in size from three to five inches. The stopper was tapered to a stepped ridge that flowed into a brooch tapered tone board. Rule formed the tone channel by cutting a tapering square groove and then a brass reed was put into place. The call barrel was step drilled. Rule also made fancy duck calls with three checkered panels that extended the length of the barrel similar to the checkering pattern he applied to his gun’s stock and forearm. His plain calls sold for $5 and the fancy one at $7.50.
After baiting duck holes with shelled corn was banned by the Mihratory Bird Act in 1935, Rule perfected a new type of decoy. Turning two-inch pine stock on his lather, he fashioned realistic ears of corn. After scoring the ‘cob’ to form kernels, Rule chipped off random kernels to add more realism to his corn decoys. The decoys were then painted with rich ochre and brunt sienna oils. An Eye screw was inserted into one end of the decoy so a weight could be added to hold the floating corn decoy amid his duck decoys. Other carvers make corn decoys but none are as lifelike or as collectible as Newt Rule’s
Because of his strong entrepreneurial spirit, Rule was able to live his life comfortably and provide for his family. In the spring and fall he hunted waterfowl in Beardstown and followed the Canada geese to Horseshoe Lake to guide hunters there. During the winter months, he and Mary vacationed in their homemade trailer in Hernando, Florida. Here he earned extra money hunting for alligators for the reptile farm at Silver Springs. And of course there was always time for salt water angling and great Florida bass fishing. Newspaper clippings and photographs in the Family photo album highlights a few of Newt’s fishing stories including a 14 ½ pound bass he caught one winter.
Not one to let an opportune season pass, Rule kept busy running a shooting gallery during the summer months. He surrounded his hand painted target boards with various advertising posters and felts from popular ammunition companies of the day. Although photos of Rule standing in this gallery looking quite impressive with his Winchester rifle and cowboy hat, no one remembers what happened to the gallery, including the decorations and scenic target boards. Rule was a true carnival man. His granddaughter remembers him relating how he shaved some of the bullets for his ‘sure shot’ customers. With this bit of trickery, even the best shots would be hard pressed to hit the targets, guaranteeing that few would win his better prizes. Maybe his shooting gallery was one of his best decoys. Even so, Newt Rule was a well-like man. He was respected by both locals and visiting hunters, and was considered to be one of the better hunters and fishermen in the state.