published Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Mice and men: Ringgold's 12-foot mouse represents a family legacy

Lee Tubbs, owner of Enviroguard Pest Solutions, recently installed a 12-foot-tall fiberglass mouse in front of his Ringgold, Ga., business. The mouse was used for promotional purposes for more than 40 years by his uncle, Les Tubbs, who operated Atomic Pest Control in Memphis.
Lee Tubbs, owner of Enviroguard Pest Solutions, recently installed a 12-foot-tall fiberglass mouse in front of his Ringgold, Ga., business. The mouse was used for promotional purposes for more than 40 years by his uncle, Les Tubbs, who operated Atomic Pest Control in Memphis.
Photo by John Rawlston.

THE MOUSE

1,200 pounds: Weight of the mouse statue

12 feet: Height of the mouse

8 feet: Height of the American cheese wedge the mouse is eating

3 feet: Length of the mouse's metal rod whiskers

No name: The mouse has never been given an official name. There will be a naming contest later in the summer

RINGGOLD, Ga. — This big hollow mouse is full of memories.

Some good, some bad, but all worth retelling from time to time.

"She said she wanted me to have the mouse so it could stay in the family," said Lee Tubbs, the owner of Ringgold's Enviroguard Pest Solutions, home of the 12-foot, cheese-munching varmint.

"In other words, it was my inheritence," he joked.

The mouse came to live in Ringgold in December, after the woman Tubbs refers to -- his cousin, Carese Rice -- was forced to sell the mouse's longtime home, Atomic Pest Control.

Rice inherited Memphis-based Atomic Pest Control from her father, Les Tubbs, a man of a thousand ventures and accomplishments, among them the purchase of this mammoth fiberglass mouse back in 1969.

Les Tubbs is Lee Tubbs' late uncle.

And the elder Tubbs' purchase intially got a lot of strange looks -- after all, the Atomic Pest Control mascot was a cartoon astronaut named Atomic Ray, drawn and conceived in the style of the nuke-minded 1950s.

But the mouse quickly developed a reputation and a following. Les Tubbs had it mounted on a trailer, and it made appearances at parades, events and schools -- with the Atomic Pest Control name all over it.

"He was a marketing genius," Lee Tubbs says of his uncle.

Even now, the mouse is a handy marketing tool, said Teresa Ball, who owns a marketing firm in Ringgold.

"It is very wise to use something to remind their customers of who they are," she said.

Kill mice? Put a big mouse on your marketing material, and folks are more likely to remember you.

"It could be very useful if they use that symbol to remind their customers that they did something useful for them," said Ball. "You want them to think 'Enviroguard. Yeah, they have the mouse statue.'"

It seems to be working.

The mouse has been featured in travel magazines, local magazines, newspapers and even a 2001 "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip.

Lee Tubbs keeps the mouse's many media appearances stored in a brown accordion folder, and he can put one after another on the round table in his office.

Because he's the keeper of its legacy now. And the legacy of its origins, the pest control business his predecessors built a few blocks up Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland.

Like many in the family, Tubbs worked many years at Atomic.

He cracks up remembering the time a couple of frat boys stole the mouse back when it was trailer-mounted -- that's why it was moved to the roof in 1978-- and drove away, towing it behind the Atomic Pest Control pickup they lifted.

The mouse was found unhitched and alone, but unharmed, in an alley outside Charles Vergos' Rendezvous, a famous Memphis eatery.

There are countless happy memories. Like the time young Lee Tubbs climbed to the roof of Atomic Pest Control and replaced the red-lighted eyes after strangers shot them out.

And the scores of tourists who stopped in just to ask if they could get a photo of the mouse.

But there are somber memories, too.

Tubbs last week pulled out a black-and-white photo of the mouse in its earlier days. In the photo, flanking the big cheese, are Earl Tubbs, his father, Les Tubbs, his uncle and Bob Taylor, Atomic service manager at the time.

All three men are gone now.

Actually, so is Atomic Pest Control, which was sold out of the family in December.

That was hard to see, said Tubbs. He almost feels that he should have been there to help stop it.

"Maybe if I'd have stayed, things would have been different," he said last week. "Who knows?"

But all is not lost.

Enviroguard is going strong, partly because Lee Tubbs spent his formative years walking in his uncle's footsteps, battling Memphis' critters and learning the art of entrepreneurship first-hand.

And embracing the famous 12-foot mouse.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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