Now that you’ve met the Williams family who arrived in Sierra Blanca 99 years ago, I’d like to introduce you to the sole Williams descendant in Sierra Blanca today – Tom D Ellison, son of Thelma Williams Ellison, and nephew of our grandfather. He is literally holding down the fort. His garage, Ellison Motor Co.,
is itself a direct descendant of Blanca Motors, the Ford dealership founded by our great grandfather, Jesse D. Williams, across the street from the current location of Ellison Motor Co. Blanca did big business in the late 1920s. Among Tom’s many keepsakes are several Blanca Motors promotional drinking cups. As he pointed out to me, there were no water fountains and these cups were a travel necessity.
Later, Tom’s parents took over Blanca Motors and renamed it Ellison Motor Co. This picture is hanging in the garage office.
The house in which Tom lived from the age of 10 (which happens also to be the house where Mom spent her early years) is next door to the garage:
And the home that he built and where he raised his own family is immediately behind the garage. He has spent most of his life in a quarter-mile square. (There a picture of him as an infant here.) But if you think that makes him or his life uninteresting, you’d be dead wrong.
Now in his mid-80s, he opens his garage every day – except when he doesn’t.
And what a place! The coffee pot is always full.
He’s got the usual stuff you would expect to find in a garage…
But then there are all the rock tumblers and polishers and his rock shop off to the side…
Some of his finest lapidary (I thought) is found in his personal collection of bolo ties..
He collects and restores vehicles — here’s the ’39 Ford that was the last car purchased by his mother Thelma from the family Ford dealership:
And a shiny red Model A:
He still has the family wrecker, though it hasn’t been out on a call in years. Guess how he got the wrecker in this structure…
He built the structure over the wrecker in another location, poured the concrete on this spot, jacked up the building on the wrecker and drove it over. No kidding.
He also has a nice collection of Indian grinding stones carried in (somehow) from the desert:
An attic full of antlers…
And numerous individual artifacts, many of which come with a story, like the chair hanging on the wall.
This story goes that Henry Wall, an old friend of Tom’s was at the Brite Ranch when he was a little boy and he and Mrs. Massey, the schoolteacher, had to hide under a dining room table when Pancho Villa led a raid there. Years later, Henry took the chair from next to that table and then passed it along to Tom because he knew Tom would take care of it.
At one point during our two days of visits, Uncle Jerry turned to him and said, “Tom, you ever throw anything away?” and Tom answered, “Not much.”
(You’ll have to imagine that exchange between two born and bred Texans to get the full effect. I honestly needed a tape recorder.)
A source of great pride to Tom is his father’s Texas Ranger service. Here’s a picture of Duncan Clyde Ellison that hangs on the wall of the rock shop, inscribed “My Ranger Man” by Thelma:
Tom learned of the Texas Ranger Memorial Cross program, secured a special marker for his father, and installed it himself at his father’s grave.
Tom has left Sierra Blanca – on at least several notable occasions. He mentioned a Lions Club trip to Australia. I’m sure there were other big trips and he does visit with family throughout Texas and Oklahoma but we didn’t dwell on travel stories. Most significantly from a family history perspective, he served in the Navy during WWII, on what was called a kiddie tour, a four year enlistment that ended on his 21st birthday. While stationed in England, he met his first wife, Jean. They were both very young, and after getting “permission from everybody in England,” they were married at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Taunton on May 22nd, 1945.
When Mom came east after marrying Dad, she was seen by some as an exotic creature from a far off place. I can only imagine the sensation created by the arrival of Jean!
Tom and Jean raised a family of three, kept bobcats as pets, and even had an antelope named “Lopey” that followed Tom to the garage every morning and had to be led back to his pen. Sounds like never a dull moment. Jean died in 1987 after 42 years of marriage, and Tom showed me her grave at the Sierra Blanca cemetery. Like his sister, Julia Mae, the back of Jean’s marker includes his nickname for her – “Tootlehopper.”
Tom has been remarried to a widow of a cousin for over twenty years. The two couples used to visit over the years and Tom claims to be one of the only men on earth to have a picture of his two wives together. And I can confirm that, in fact, he does have such a picture. He’s been lucky in life with women.
These days, Tom prefers to avoid the big city. So much so that when he had knee surgery, he rigged up his own recumbent bicycle from a chair salvaged from the old school for home-grown physical therapy…
The doctor was amazed at his progress. When Tom told him he was doing 2,000 revolutions per day, the doctor told him he could cut back to a thousand.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m not the first person who has tried to document the life and times of Tom D Ellison. He’s been photographed, blogged about, and interviewed. Check out these photographs on Flickr, taken by Shaun Barrows – they do more justice to Tom, the garage, and the Texas sky than my camera could. Shaun passed through Sierra Blanca while helping a friend move and said that meeting Tom was a highlight of the trip. Thanks, Shaun, for allowing me to share the link.
It’s an honor to join the legion of fans of my first cousin once-removed, Tom D Ellison. If you’re ever in the vicinity of Sierra Blanca, you should stop by – you’d be welcomed.
8 thoughts on “My host, Tom D”
What a wonderful story and tribute
My Goodness, I am so glad I found this site. Tom D. Ellison is my favorite Uncle EVER! My Mom was his youngest sister Betty Clyde (named after her Grandpa) Ellison Murrell. Myself and my “Twin” cousin, Virginia Ellison, were born in the house where Uncle Tom, my Aunt Mae (Julia Mae Ellison Jenkins) and my Mom grew up. I spent many many weekends and days growing up there with my cousins and running around Sierra Blanca. Wonderful memories! My two boys have also spent hours and hours with their Uncle Tom in the garage and rock shop learning to weld, etc. We all love him and my Aunt Jean was exotic and such a talented lady. We also loved Aunt Peal Eileen who made him so happy and we are so saddened by her recent death. Thank you so much for honoring my family! Lynn Murrell Bowman
On a road trip across the country, my family and I were approached by Mr. Ellison after fueling up at a nearby gas station. He invited us to visit his shop, where he gave us a grand tour of his shop, backyard and his private residence. I just returned home from that 2 week trip, and this random encounter with Mr. Ellison was the highlight of my trip! We ended up spending 2 hours with him, listening to his stories. I am sure it is an honor for you to be related to his sweet man!
I meet Tom D, it was the most awesome visit I enjoyed his life stories. .I felt so blessed to meet such a strong interesting man. He is full of history and life.i wish him the very best of health. I just meet this man and I love him dearly just because of the person that he is..
Hello Norma, I am so glad you got to meet my wonderful Uncle Tom! My Mom, Betty Clyde Ellison Murrell was Uncle Tom’s baby sister and I was born and spent a lot of my growing up time in the little adobe house next to Uncle Tom’s garage. My “twin” cousin, Virginia Ellison Heffernan and I were born 36 hours apart in the front room of that house. It was a big event in Sierra Blanca! Eventually my parents moved to El Paso but we spent most weekends back in Sierra Blanca. My Dad and Uncle Henry (my Aunt Mae’s, Uncle Tom’s older sister,) husband helped Uncle Tom hand dig and build the swimming pool for us when we were kids. I can remember playing with the bobcats and swimming in the pool! It was a wonderful life and a great place to grow up in. Uncle Tom made it great fun to be a kid! I loved my Aunt Jean (his first wife) because she was so British! And of course, in later years we loved Aunt Pearl Eleen! My Mom and Aunt Jean were best buds and she and my cousins would come to El Paso and spend the weekends with us. I miss that life! It is a wonderful family history. I am actually working on some of the history now. Feel free to contact me anytime!
I had the great honor of meeting this great man today. My life will be forever enriched by his presence and life. He like no other represents Texas.
He’s touched so many people. I’m happy for you that you could be one of them!
My husband and I just left Tom. We both got the grand tour of his life, shop, and rocks. What a wonderful man. He is so proud of the fact that he has introduced little ones to a love of rocks also. As others have said it’ll be the highlight of our trip. We promised to stop in again.