Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beyond the Jinx: The Life of Fred Rinehart

Beyond the Jinx:

The Life of Fred Rinehart

by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

© 2008

The publication of Doug Carpenter’s seminal work on the Rinehart Company gave collectors a tremendous amount of information on this popular tackle firm. Pretty much everything that could be said about the colors, variations, and styles of lures made by this company in all its incarnations are covered in incredible depth, and of course the color photos make this book an absolute must-have for anyone interested in lures from this era (to read my original review of this book click here).

There are some episodes in the life of Fred Rinehart, however, worth remembering that help to fill out his life story. Fred Elmus Rinehart was born in 1904 near Newark, Ohio and grew up as an avid outdoorsman; he enjoyed hunting as much as he did fishing. In fact, by the mid-1930s Rinehart had established himself as one of the leading outdoorsman in Licking County.

It is at this time that he first came to the attention of the local sporting community. While an employee at the local tire plant, Rinehart moonlighted as an outdoor writer for The Newark Advocate. Throughout 1937, Rinehart contributed outdoor articles primarily on hunting and hunting issues, but several also on fishing. He was a decent if unspectacular writer, and as his columns coincided with his patent application for the Rinehart water beetle fly rod bug, it is likely he gave up his writing gig as the demands of his fledgling tackle company began to take up his time. Perhaps the most interesting article he penned was on the subject of musky fishing in the Muskingum River, and a photo accompanying this article showed Fred holding two muskellunge—a 10 and 21 1/2 pounder. This picture was used a decade later in Rinehart Jinx literature. Tomorrow in The Voices of the Past column I will reproduce Rinehart’s 1937 musky article.

Fred was a talented man who had several careers. One aspect of his life that has been overlooked is that, for a period in the middle of World War II, Rinehart operated a restaurant in Newark known as The Hut. Advertisements for this apparently short-lived venture disappear by 1944, but we know that it formally opened on 26 June 1942 and had apparently been in business for a short time prior to this date. It was located at 386 East Main Street in Newark and was managed by Vera Thompson. The explanation for why he would engage in this kind of work has everything to do with timing. Although he continued to manufacture lures during the war, the paucity of components available to tackle makers meant that he likely had to seek out other work.

It was during the Second World War that Rinehart perfected his signature lure, the Jinx. The earliest mention of this lure is in the spring of 1942, when the lure was offered along with a slough of standard fishing fare by the local Newark branch of Sears, Roebuck & Company—the earliest reference to the Jinx yet discovered. Since it would have taken some time to have perfected and finalized the Jinx to a point where it could be sold over the counter at Sears, it seems likely the Jinx was developed the previous year. It is interesting to note that the Jinx sold for .90, around the same price as its main competitor— the Heddon River Runt Spook—and more than many standard nationally-distributed baits. Note that the name used was “Rinehart’s Jinx.”

Despite the war, Rinehart never gave up the dream of expanding his tackle business, and as the fighting wound down he began concentrating on the growing demand for lures in the wake of the end of the war. He must have anticipated this unprecedented boom as he reentered the tackle field long before many of his competitors. Throughout 1945, Rinehart was advertising heavily in both national magazines and in the local Newark Advocate & American Tribune. Advertisement such as the one below show that, while many firms were still struggling to kick-start production, Rinehart was declaring that the Jinx was known “from coast to coast and Canada.”

The late 1940s and early 1950s were halcyon days for Rinehart and the Jinx, as it became one of the most popular lures made by any of the non-Big 5 (Shakespeare, Pflueger, Heddon, South Bend and Creek Chub) companies. But an extraordinary growth in the tackle manufacturing field, along with the first push of the ultralight spinning reel market, meant that these days were not destined to last.

In an effort to keep up with what had to be increasingly slim profit margins, Rinehart expanded his business to include standard tackle shop sales. For example, on 27 May 1952 he took out an expansive want ad listing a Johnson Seahorse 10 HP motor for sale from “the Fred Rinehart Tackle Co., 15 Forry Street.” At first I wrote this off as a personal want ad sale, but then other items began to appear for sale from this same address. A few years later, for example, Rinehart took out a regular ad listing “New Fiberglas [sic] Boat…see this new design, the best in boats.” He listed the same address.

The smoking gun that Rinehart was now operating a sporting goods store out of his 15 Forry Street address comes in the form of advertisements run in the fall of 1956. These declare “Get your shells and licenses at Fred Rinehart Tackle,” and were run beginning on 13 September 1956. This was in anticipation of hunting season opener, so not only was Rinehart selling fishing tackle he was also selling hunting gear as well. The ads concluded: “Open ‘Til 9:00 tonight, open all night Friday the 14th.”

Clearly, sales of the Jinx had plummeted and Rinehart was doing what he had to do to keep the firm running. Bad luck seemed to dog Fred at every turn, however. Perhaps he was, like his lure, a bit jinxed during this period. On the last day of August, 1956, Fred was driving home in afternoon rush hour traffic in downtown Newark when he was involved in a three-car pileup caused by an out-of-control driver. In 1957, as Carpenter points out in his book, Rinehart sold his tackle company to Harold Kitzmiller of Gahanna, Ohio to concentrate on the development of a nursing home located next door to his 15 Forry Avenue home, only to have the firm and its assets returned to him a year later when Kitzmiller defaulted.

Then, on 10 March 1958, his run of bad luck culminated when Rinehart was badly injured in a grass fire that began when he was burning trash out behind his house. As The Newark Advocate reported:

Fred Rinehart…required resuscitator aid when a grass fire he attempted to fight single-handedly got out of control near his home Saturday afternoon. A trash fire started by the man got out of control and burned into a cornfield, firemen said, and Rinehart was nearly cut off by the encircling flames when the first truck arrived.

Overcome by smoke inhalation, it was only the quick actions of the Newark fire department that saved Rinehart from far more egregious injuries.

In the wake of this near-death experience, Rinehart found a new buyer for his tackle concern and sold it to investors in Marietta, Ohio, where it would continue for a couple of years before closing down for good in 1962.

The expenditure of capital in starting up a new business forced Rinehart to make some difficult financial decisions. Evidence of this can be found in the 15 May 1960 Newark Advocate want ads, which list a “1955 Royal Lancer Hardtop Dodge” for sale by Fred Rinehart. The price? All the buyer had to do was “take over payments.”

Dark days soon ended for Fred, and the Newark Nursing Home seemed to prosper over the next decade. He would spend the remainder of his days running the nursing home business, and eventually split his time between Newark and Lakeland, Florida. He was a member of a number of local fraternal organizations including the Eagles Club. Rinehart passed away at the age of 67 in 1972, and touchingly, his daughters would run an advertisement for a number of years after memorializing the date of his passing.

Of course, there is much to still be learned about Rinehart, but hopefully this short biography will add a little bit more to the story of Fred Rinehart. As the title of Doug’s book says, there is just something about a Jinx. And there is just something about Fred Rinehart, too.

-- Dr. Todd

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