Road Trippin’ With J. Boyd Ellis

It was a beautiful 1950s day in Arlington, Washington, a great day for a road trip. The old car was loaded with cameras, tripods and a few sandwiches, destination, somewhere over the mountains where the scenery was different. J. Boyd Ellis climbed in the car and pointed it towards Snoqualmie Pass and the Grand Coulee of Washington State.

J. Boyd Ellis was born in 1894 in Iowa. At a very young age he moved to Olympia, Washington with his family where he attended school and excelled in his studies. In a time when most of the boys were off to work, Boyd continued his education eventually graduating from the University of Washington. After graduating Boyd took a job as the Principle of Marysville High School and in 1918 married Hazel Duxbury. They settled down in a house in Marysville and in no time at all Hazel gave birth to Boyd’s son, Clifford B Ellis. Everything seemed normal, Boyd would go to work while Hazel stayed home and tended to baby Clifford and the household. Then Boyd would return and they would eat the dinner Hazel prepared, maybe a little radio listening, book reading, and off to bed. But in his head he was planning an escape, one that would happen in a car with a camera.

In 1921, J. Boyd Ellis bought a photography studio in Arlington, moved his family there and quit his job with the public schools. He had developed an interest in photography and had a masterplan, rather than just working for someone he was going to start his own business, one his son could be involved in and someday own. The country had just started it’s love affair with automobiles, Ellis planned to mix photography and cars by making and distributing postcards from his studio. Back in 1921 more people had cars than cameras, for many people postcards were the only way to adequately show the far distant lands traveled by the daring tourist and his fearless car. And they had functionality, flip it over and for a couple cents you could send a message through the mail for almost instant bragging rights. “Look at me! I’m at Dry Falls!”

The timing was perfect. The automobile industry grew exponentially, cars it seems were breeding like rabbits. The state struggled to keep up with the tourist boom by building new roads, highways and State Parks to explore. Ellis’ business in Arlington was now called Ellis Postcard Company and the focus was mostly State Parks and recreational areas in Washington State. J. Boyd Ellis himself took most of the pictures. As soon as Clifford was old enough he joined in on the road trips, camera in hand he learned the trade from ‘his old man’ and for decades the two of them would follow the wind anywhere in the state taking pictures for postcards. Boyd finally grew too old, and retired, passing the family business over to his son, Clifford B Ellis. Together the two of them would record history in Washington State for over 50 years and 5,000 published photographic postcards. And it usually started the same, Boyd would load up the car, some cameras, tripods, a sandwich or two. Clifford would jump in the front seat and together the two would head down the road taking pictures. What a life.

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