North of the Platte, South of the Niobrara: A Little Further into the Nebraska Sand Hills
"Books about the vast Sand Hills region of Nebraska are scarce, and it follows that good books about the area are rare indeed. Bryan Jones has waded into this enigmatic landscape with tape recorder, wife, dog, and the tenacity of a much admired 27 year teacher of middle school students. He trains his persistence on Sand Hills folks until he unravels their affection for these hills and gets the story. While focusing on McMurtreys, Sandoz, Purdums, Kimes, Wards and other residents Jones rounds up the whole neighborhood. He’s found the people who love these Hills and lets them talk. Even Bryan’s geologists and hydrologists reveal an enthusiasm for this region that is essential to helping us and them understand this very uncommon place. Bryan is a biographer of place and mostly keeps his prejudices corralled, but his love of our neighborhood is evident on each page. This is a great book about the Sand Hills of Nebraska and we will be forever grateful to Bryan Jones for the years he spent researching and writing North of the Platte, South of the Niobrara."
-Duane Gudgel, Plains Trading Company
"Somewhere in the middle of Bryan Jones’ purposely meandering heartfelt exploration of the Nebraska Sand Hills there is a quote from recently deceased native born poet Don Welch: “With the Sand Hills there’s an overtakelessness, an unendingness. There is a sense of becoming I think is utterly fascinating and mysterious.” Don could’ve been talking about Bryan’s book.
Bryan Jones has coerced the shy modest Sand Hills into revealing itself. Through extended sit-down kitchen visits with reluctant Sand Hillers, bad weather canoe trips on sandy-bottomed rivers, Memorial Day services at remote churches, old fashioned bull fry brandings, the challenges of passing vast ranch holdings down through families that resemble the stuff of Greek tragedies, sudden death under the hooves of ornery rodeo livestock, surviving an airplane wreck on a grass ranch landing strip, the return of the bison at the hands of Ted Turner and all the rest, he lets his readers in on the secret ways of a place that most of us who know it would really like to keep to ourselves."
-Mike Farrell, award-winning documentary film director, producer and writer of In Search of the Oregon Trail, A Sand Hills Story, The Platte River Road and Plowing Up a Storm.
North of the Platte, South of the Niobrara: A Little Further into the Nebraska Sand Hills is unlike any other book I’ve read. Filled with adventurous writing, sharp scrutiny, meticulous and audacious use of language, it winds around its subjects the way the rivers and creeks of the Great Plains twist around humps of prairie grass, ranches and rock outcroppings.
-Linda Hasselstrom, author of Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal and Going Over East:Reflections of a Woman Rancher
Bryan L. Jones presents an absorbing book about the residents, especially ranch families, who live, work and interact in the Nebraska Sand Hills area. It reads well in a folksy, unpretentious style that lures the reader on. As might be expected, a number of strong, independent-minded people inhabit the area and the pages of the book. The billionaire Ted Turner’s intent to acquire large acreage enters the narrative several times, and readers will find how successful he is. The foreword by Linda Hasselstrom informs us that Jones traveled 70,000 miles and conducted 370 interviews to gather the information that he renders into this fascinating picture of the area.
-Lynn Bueling, Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine, February 2019
The Farming Game
"A former high school teacher turned Nebraska farmer himself, Jones has drawn on his experience to write a lively, practical guide to success or, more often, failure in small farming. What distinguishes The Farming Game from a mere how-to book is the author's sharp eye for the absurd detail in his portraits of people and his descriptions of the lending policies of banks, the government price controls and the production methods of agribusiness that make it difficult for the independent farmer to compete."-New York Times Book Review
"Bryan Jones is that rare thing, a real farmer who also writes. The Farming Game is the one book I've seen that I would give to someone who was thinking of moving to the country and actually supporting himself or herself off the land. Anyone who picks it up [won't be able to] stop laughing. First at the dozen portraits of different types of farmers. Then at various barbed asides in the three long essays on how farmers can and do make money. Jones has a wicked wit. [And his] book is remarkably educative. Mixed with the humor is a mass of information and analysis. The reality of farming is here as other people very seldom see it."-Noel Perrin, Smithsonian
“A book on the nuts and bolts of thinking like a farmer...will get manure on your boots and give you an idea of theblend of humor and healthy cynicism needed to make it down on the farm today. One of the themes of this book is those born to the land or returning to it should be just as concerned with making a good income as in the lifestyle it represents. The one thing that will secure the small farmer’s place on the land is an operation run solidly in the black.”--Farmstead Magazine
“Bryan Jones, a Nebraska farmer and a delightful writer, gets across a great deal of sound advice on farming--without preaching and without a superiority complex. Jones offers some serious suggestions for people who want to get into farming, especially city folks who think they’d like to try small farm life.”--Des Moines Register
“Farms and farmers have been disappearing in large numbers in America since the 1950s. The Farming Game suggests strategies for people interested in surviving this trend. This is a book that any beginner will need and anyone with experience will nod at knowingly.”--CoEvolution Quarterly
“Characters like Crazy Billy the Fantasy Farmer make you think more of Damon Runyon than of a serious book on current problems with this country’s agriculture. Make no mistake, Bryan Jones has written a serious book that probably offers the most cogent explanation of an extremely complex problem. For the avid city dweller, Jones explains why our food costs so much and why the farmers aren’t making it.
“For the would-be back-to-the-lander, Jones has written a book that successfully debunks the more romantic aspects of such a venture. If you’re not thinking in terms of profit first you’ll never make it. Forget the sunsets in the winter woods, the sight of wooly lambs gamboling in the pasture, the taste of home-grown vegetables. If, first of all, you don’t regard this as a business venture you won’t last long.”--Philadelphia Inquirer
“Bryan Jones is witty, irreverent, provocative--too insightful to be ignored.”-- Marty Strange, author of Family Farming: A New Economic Vision
“I read The Farming Game with pure pleasure. Bryan Jones is a gifted writer and he has most of the nuances right.”--Don Paarlberg, author of Farm and Food Policy: Issues of the 1980s
“Bryan Jones is refreshingly, outrageously honest; like the old populists of Nebraska, he speaks of genuine conditions in agriculture. Out of his own experience he expresses the thoughts of struggling farmers all over America.”--Gene Logsdon, author of Two Acre Eden
“Written in the early 1980's, this book is still quite relevant. It's a great read - very well written and funny - and it presents very clear lessons on agricultural economics in an approachable format. I recommend this book as a great way to learn something while being entertained.”--Jeffrey Schox
“Funny, very funny. The characters portrayed here you've either met or after reading you'll wish you had. Jones does an excellent job weaving the trials and tribulations of farming and ranching with the truly unique characters that are found down on the farm. I'd highly recommend it.”--Jeff M. Chambers
Mark Twain Made Me Do It & Other Plains Adventures
“In recent years the premature memoir of the young or floundering writer has established itself as a fledgling genre. While many of these hasty autobiographies seem of scant interest to anyone except the most dedicated literary groupie, Jones (The Farming Game) offers a collection of essays that recalls the youthful credulity of America in the '50s as much as it does his often hilarious, Huckleberry Finn-inspired misadventures. The son of a Methodist minister, Jones progresses from a four-year-old concocting gurgling chemical experiments in the parsonage's upstairs toilet ("Pot Roast Every Sunday") to a high-schooler recounting offbeat family legends at a typical '50s holiday get-together ("The Clan"). Over the course of these essays, Jones comes of age, which means he settles into living inside narratives he understands are larger than his own ("Polio," "Growing Up Methodist"). Though Mark Twain's two shortest essays--"Heading West" and "Back to the Basics"--prove transitional and a little sentimental, Jones's prose remains clear and energetic throughout. He's careful, as well, not to fall victim to cheap nostalgia. Leave it to a junior-high-school writing teacher living in McCook, Nebraska, to figure out how to get around that hazard.” -- From Library Journal
“I flat admire Bryan L. Jones’s Mark Twain Made Me Do It—not only because it dramatizes a truckload of boyhood epiphanies, but also because it does the dramatizing with a flair and an attitude worthy of Twain himself.”—William Kloefkorn, Nebraska State Poet
“These are the fond reminiscences of a boyhood in small-town Nebraska in the early 1950s. It is a rambunctious life, a la Tom and Huck, with Jones, the son of a Methodist minister, bolstering the stereotype of the preacher's kid as hell-raiser. Jones's charm lies in his ability to recount events from the perspective of a child with the droll humor of an adult ("The Reverend Bat C. Henry, he of the middle-aged shining head and ferocious windpipe, wrote the book on gasbags"). He also keeps his account relentlessly upbeat even in the presence of polio epidemics and teacher brutality.”
"Jones mixes humor characteristic of the plains society with a dash of wisdom, a pinch of the history of farming (of which most modern folks are woefully ignorant), and hefty insight into, and charity toward, human nature."—Linda Hasselstrom, author of Going Over East
“Jones succeeds in making Nebraska in the 1950s seem exotic, even fascinating, definitely worth hearing about.”—Noel Perrin, author of First Person Rural
“Bryan Jones' book is about growing up in small town Nebraska in the 1950s, the son of an easy-going Methodist minister and brother of two older sisters. Throughout, it is humorous; at times it is laugh-out-loud funny.
“The title comes from a Huck Finn-inspired attempt to float down the Platte River on an inner tube raft with another boy, an adventure somewhat diminished by the shallow river's lack of water and a tumultuous thunderstorm that drives them to a motel. The book begins and ends with accounts of the extended families from which both of his parents spring -- the Tuppers of Red Cloud (Willa Cather country) and the Joneses of little Magnet in northeast Nebraska.
“The rest is a vivid evocation of a small-town boyhood set mostly in the western Panhandle town of Chappell, Nebraska. For a boy who owns BB guns, loves elaborate pranks, and plays baseball, it's a town of lazy summers, cranky neighbors, vicious school teachers, incompetent town cops, and various oddball residents. Although he does not make much of this, he is the proverbial preacher's son, always riding the ragged edge of disaster.
“There are a few sobering moments in the mix, as when he pauses in a recollection of the early 1950s polio outbreaks to tell of two young survivors. But for the most part, Jones is eagerly looking for the comic turns in his stories, the ironies and absurdities. He manages this by lapsing into the frame of mind he seems to have had as a boy, irrepressible, heedless, and almost totally self-centered.
“I recommend this book to anyone who has ever loved Huck Finn. It takes its rightful place on a bookshelf of American small-town childhoods.”--Ronald Scheer
“Every once in a while, I read an author whose voice stays with me. Bryan Jones is one of those authors. He makes himself and his self-aware, intelligent humor an integral part of the actual book itself. Each story in the collection can stand alone, and each one has an element of that incredible humor present. I laughed my way through the book, getting to know the protagonist better and better, until finally I felt like I would recognize him if we happened to run into each other.
“Long after I finished the book, I heard echoes of his dry observations, and I'll still chuckle when I recall the situational comedy that was apparently unavoidable in Nebraska in the 50s. But I'll also recall the simple, direct manner in which he described the fear and panic of a polio summer, the lines of iron lungs and the deadly earnest March of Dimes efforts. Tragedy is never sidestepped; death and loss and horrible chance are addressed with the same directness that characterizes the boyhood escapades.
“Reading Mark Twain Made Me Do It was like being afforded a brief glimpse into a life that I can never know. It made me envious, and not because it presented an idyllic childhood to dream on; on the contrary, I was envious of Bryan's having the varied experiences to draw on during the writing of these stories, and the talent and skill to write them well. I can't for the life of me figure out why this collection hasn't run rampant across the bestseller lists of the country. It was a truly wonderful reading experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for good laughs and some poignant Midwest truths. And the wicked wit is just an added bonus.”--Natalie Geist