Chattanooga History Column: The Ray Moss family

Chattanooga History Column: The Ray Moss family

July 9th, 2017 by Jerry Summers in Opinion Columns

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Ray Earl Moss Sr. was a major league baseball pitcher for the Brooklyn Robins (later the Brooklyn Dodgers) and Boston Braves from 1926-1931. Born in 1901, he was a farmer, milk producer and financial backer of startup company the Milk Jug that evolved into the Golden Gallon with convenience stores in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Moss, a Tyner High School graduate, started his baseball career in the Southern League, where he pitched for the Memphis Chicks. Displaying great talent, he moved to the Brooklyn Robins in 1926. The right-handed pitcher with a wicked curve ball had a record of 22-18 during the five years in Flatbush and one year including 12 games for Boston.

After retiring from baseball, he returned to Chattanooga and started a dairy operation on a farm near Bonny Oaks Drive and Highway 153. At the time of his death in 1998 at the age of 98, he was the oldest surviving member of the Boston Braves.

His son, Ray Moss Jr., grew up on the family farm and rose every day at 3:30 a.m. to handle dairy chores. The hard work, fresh air, good food and exercise put him in top physical condition.

One of Chattanooga's outstanding football stars, he won honors playing center and linebacker for four years with Coach Red Etter at Central High School. He was elected to all-city, all-state, all-Southern and all-American high school teams and also served as president of his class for three years.

He went on to win letters playing center on the football team at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Afterwards he signed a pro contract with the Buffalo Bills but never played and returned to go into business in Chattanooga.

Lyle Finley, his brother-in-law, developed the idea for the Milk Jug after observing "motorists utilizing the convenience of shopping from their cars at small drive-through stores" in Florida while attending a University of Tennessee football game.

Ray Moss Jr. and Lyle, with the financial support of Ray Sr., founded the Milk Jug chain in 1959, after which they opened a new store every month for the next two years.

The locations were on small lots with a single employee waiting to serve customers at a drive-through on each sheltered side of the building.

Management set up their small stores on the right side of the road close to residential areas to allow customers to drive in and order dairy products on their way home from work. At first, they sold only milk, ice cream and cottage cheese but eventually added bread, bacon, sausage and other breakfast staples.

The concept caught on, and the company became a strong competitor to the home delivery dairies such as Grant-Patten and Happy Valley.

Milk Jugs added other products and evolved into full-service convenience stores with self-service gasoline pumps by 1971, when the name Golden Gallon was adopted.

Ray Moss Jr. failed to see the full growth of the company that he, his father and brother-in-law had started. Moss, a pilot, and Richard Kelley, a vice-president of Golden Gallon, were returning from a fishing trip from Crystal River, Fla., when their small plane crashed into a mountain near Dalton, Ga., on Oct. 7, 1976, two days short of Moss's 40th birthday. He left behind his wife, Diane, and 1-year-old son, Trey.

Golden Gallon's surviving member of management, Lyle Finley, took over operation as chief executive officer and continued to expand the company. In 2000, Finley sold the company to Bi-Lo of Mauldin, S.C., one of the world's largest food retailers.

Golden Gallon had grown to 138 stores and more than 1,100 employees by 2003, when Ahold sold the assets of Golden Gallon to The Pantry Inc., one of the largest independently owned convenience stores in the country.

Finley later owned 37 Exxon Mobil gas stations in the Nashville area. In 2001, the 1956 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's College of Business, was inducted into its Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.

Jerry Summers is an attorney with Summers, Rodgers and Rufolo. Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser with Patten and Patten, contributed to this article. For more, visit Chattahistoricassoc.org.

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