Engineer Turns Talent To Piñatas



After retiring from the high-tech world of ceramics engineering, Payson resident John T. Jones now spends a good deal of his time making piñatas.

That's not as big a leap as it seems on the surface, because Jones uses many of the principles of engineering to create bulls, donkeys and even the Dr. Seuss' "Grinch" for the children at his church to enjoy at their annual Christmas party.

"I got 30 kids or more hitting this thing up to about age 16, so you try to make things fairly strong so stuff will not fall out the whole time," Jones said.

The materials Jones uses include balloons, papier-maché, cardboard, and, of course, duct tape.

"I hang it all in the kitchen and build it there," he said. "The idea is to make it strong enough so it will withstand the beating without falling down, so all the kids get a chance."

And while his creations are designed to be destroyed, Jones is an engineer with a soft heart. He admits he gets attached to the critters he creates.

"You get where you don't want him broken up," he said.

While he's only had serious time to devote to piñatas during the eight years he's been retired, his interest in the cultures that spawned them goes back many years.

"My brother was a missionary in Argentina, so I've always been fascinated with the culture," he said.

But piñatas are only one of many pursuits that keep Jones busy now that he's hung up his slide rule. Another prime interest is selling used books over the Internet, a business that generates a little extra income to help pay the bills.

"One day I was on Amazon looking for a book and they said they had a used copy," he said. "I didn't realize they sold used copies, and that's how it all started.

"Then Bill Dalby, president of Rotary, told me they were having a book sale in the Wal-Mart parking lot, so I went over and bought 80 hardbacks for 50 cents apiece. I put them in the computer and two days later sold "Birds of New Mexico for $150, and I says, ‘Hey, I got my $40 back real quick.'"

Buying books primarily at Rim country yard sales, often at just 10 cents apiece, Jones has built an extensive inventory -- to the point where he had to put a shed in his back yard to hold them all. His books are available through his own website,, and through other used book websites.

While it's not going to make him rich, it is a profitable venture. And with his engineer's mind, he can quickly tell you just how much he will make.

"For every 1,000 books in your inventory, you'll make about a $1,000," he said. "I have close to 6,000 books in mine. When you're retired and make $5,000 or $6,000, that pays your taxes, buys your insurance. It's just a little extra."

Jones also has written and self-published four novels himself, including two detective novels ("Bone China" and "In No Way Guilty") and two westerns ("Bull: A Western Saga" and "Revenge on the Mogollon Rim").

Jones' interest in writing was sparked by his father, who sold stories to newspapers to help his family survive the depression.

"He used to write in the garage because he was an old ex-rancher, and all work was done out in that garage. I thought that was fun, so I fiddled around with it," he said.

Jones, who taught at Iowa State University for awhile, also wrote a ceramics engineering textbook that has gone through multiple editions, and his four novels, written under his pen name, Taylor Jones, are all available through

Jones' success is impressive, considering he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Salt Lake City and had the dubious distinction of getting kicked out of his high school welding class.

"I was raised on the west side in Salt Lake City, where the schools had all these shops," he said. "I took woodwork, metalwork, electricity, printing, welding. This friend, Larry Hayworth, and I -- one day it was our turn to charge the acetylene generator in welding class. Acetylene is made from calcium carbide and water. We charged it, but Larry didn't come down with me. It had snowed an inch and Larry took the carbide and threw it out into the snow and took a match to it. It went, ‘Voooomm!' The sound went across the football field, rattled all the windows in this old high school, and came back and hit us again. Just then the shop teacher came out the door and thought the generator had exploded, and he passed out.

"That's why we got kicked out of welding class -- because of Larry Hayworth."

Jones chose Arizona over Utah when it came time to retire.

"My wife, Pat, and I wanted to get back out West, but we wanted it to be warmer than Utah," he said. "We went all over Arizona. I said, ‘The only place we haven't been is Payson. It's sort of out of the way, but let's drive on over there.'"


Name: John T. Jones

Occupation: Retired research engineer (Lenox China), writer

Age: 70

Birthplace: Salt Lake City

Family: Wife, Patricia, married 49 years; daughter, Alice, a portrait artist; sons, Mark, a neurosurgeon, Barry, a pediatric anesthesiologist, Patrick, a large animal veterinarian, and Jim, an attorney. Plus 29 grandchildren.

Personal motto: Never trust your brain. It's self-programmed and two-sided.

Inspiration: My friends.

Greatest feat: Raising five children and having them all get doctorate degrees except my daughter, who married a doctor.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Fishing, oil painting, poetry, making piñatas, six websites.

Three words that best describe me: Impulsive, crazy, fun-loving.

I don't want to brag, but ... I'm dumber than most people.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

Luxury defined: Food and shelter.

Dream vacation spot: Puerto Vallarta.

Why Payson? We came here for the climate and the ponderosa pines. Those beautiful trees really turn me on.

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