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FROM DAYS PAST... Starkvilles best dairy and ice cream bar of the 1940s —Pyrons

December 4, 2010

For the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum

Pryon’s opened in the 1940s and was a social fixture on College Drive for many years.
Being on the thoroughfare about half-way between campus and town made it a convenient hangout. Many college students lived in boarding houses located up and down the strip. Professors and townspeople would meet to discuss business over coffee or ice cream. The building remains on the corner of University Drive and Muldrow Avenue.
R. K. Pyron who had graduated in Dairy Science at Mississippi State and worked at the cooperative creamery built Pyron’s. The facility consisted of a creamery, fluid milk, ice cream parlor, and drive-in window.
About 1960 A&M Dairy purchased Pyron’s and the Co-operative Creamery. However, the dairy bar on College Drive remained just as before except under this new name, A&M Dairy and Ice Cream Bar. Mr. R. K. Pyron, Mrs. Bill Smith and Mrs. Robert Stillman and Will Allen, Jr. were the Management and Office Personnel. Lucretia Jones, Mrs. Catherine Shumpert, Mrs. Jacqualine Richards, Benny Dykes, Robert Hess and Gwendolyn Roberson were the drive-in personnel.
Pyron’s and A&M Dairy made home deliveries all over town and campus. Residents would sit the number of milk bottles they wanted delivered on their porch or step and the delivery boys would collect the bottles and replace with that many fresh bottles of milk. When A&M took over, their milk was no longer in bottles but in milk cartons.
In 1962, the Co-operative Creamery Association-A&M Dairy celebrated 50 years in Starkville. They employed 110 full and part time local people and paid over $300,000 in wages in 1961. The company stated, “our employees pay all local taxes, support local merchants, insurance agents, automobile dealers, etc., participate in and support local schools, civic clubs and community development and contribute 100% to the United Community Fund.” This same year, “we marketed for our membership 45,00,000 lbs milk. More than 60 members were paid over $2,000,000 for milk. The producers and employees families included over 3,000 people. We paid $8,307 in Ad Valorem and school taxes. We paid City of Starkville $15,107 for power and water. We purchased all insurance, cars and trucks, and many supplies locally. We supported Oktibbeha County Chamber of Commerce and all community projects. The products we produced included: A&M Grade A Milk, A&M Homogenized Milk, A&M Whipping Cream, A&M Coffee Cream, A&M Cottage Cheese, A&M Chocolate Milk, A&M Ice Cream, A&M Buttermilk, A&M Cultured Milk, A&M Butter and Non-Fat Milk Solids.”
Co-operative Creamery Management and Office Personnel in 1962 included: Directors: W. P Sudduth, William White, T. Garrad, Tom Montgomery and J. A. Randle, Sr., Mrs. John Rowe, S. F. Cook, Mrs. W. V. Shearer, J. T. Moore, Mrs. B. Cowart, Charles Atkinson, Mrs. R. O. Buckley, Allan Tucker, Mrs. Bill Shearer, R. B. Neal, Mrs. Patty Bell McGee, and C. L Carpenter.

Mrs. Mary Winston remembers...

Mr. Pyron worked for the A&M dairy but he owned The Dairy Bar. He made all of the ice cream products for the creamery. Milk and ice cream was delivered daily to customers at their homes. Milk was in bottles instead of cartons. The bar had a drive-in window. This was a place for teenagers to meet after school!

Johnny T. McReynolds remembers...

History of Early Milk delivery to Starkville residents and Formation of Pyron’s Dairy

My Uncle Prentiss McReynolds had the milk route business in Starkville in the late thirties and early forties. He started out at 510 Gillespie Street behind my grandfather’s house. There was about 15 acres, a big hay barn and the milk house. His dairy was located at Hickory Grove, about 8 miles east on Highway 82. The raw milk was brought to town to the milk house and processed twice a day. There was a morning route and an evening route, because of no refrigeration. The milk had to be delivered. Some of the milk was kept for cream. It was poured into a separator and I remember as a kid, turning the lever on the separator that let the cream go one way and the skim milk another way. In those days skim milk or “blue john” was either poured out or fed to the hogs. It wasn’t fit to drink. Now days it is sold as the very popular fat free milk. I remember riding in the delivery truck with Uncle Prentiss and Bill Porter. Due to my size, I would stand up on the truck seat (to see) and hold on to their shoulders. With all the stops and starts, it’s a wonder I hadn’t gone through the windshield. It was fun going into all the restaurants up town. I remember the ole timey blues music played at restaurants on Highway 82 West.
Everything was done manually. My grandmother and grandfather, with help from others, would fill each quart bottle, individually, and put a stopper on the top. Not being mechanized, not being able to collect on many accounts (milk sold for 10 cents a quart) and the wrecking of a couple of delivery trucks, Uncle Prentiss decided to give up the milk delivery business. Instead, he sold his milk to Mr. R. K. Pyron, who ran Pyron’s Dairy many years before selling out to A&M Dairy.

Patty Bell McGee remembers...

My most important memory is the office manager, Mrs. Shearer teaching me about the bookkeeping system. I had just graduated from high school. She was a very good teacher. We kept track of all the purchases that the dairymen made from our office (medicines, milk products, etc.), the feed store, the locker plant and the gas station. These purchases would be charged to the dairymen’s milk account. We kept a daily record of the amount (pounds) of milk that the Creamery received from each dairyman. At the end of the month a check would be issued to each dairyman less his expenses. The creamery expenses and accounts receivable were kept by Mrs. Shearer. There were 6 or 7 women in the Creamery office. Everyone got along and shared all of the duties.

John Thomas Moore remembers...

My dad, John T. Moore was the general manager of the Coop Creamery and executed the purchase of Pyron’s Dairy on behalf of the Creamery, and the name of Pyron’s Dairy Bar became A&M Dairy Bar. Several high schoolers, including me, were the soda jerks (some people dropped the “soda”) that performed after school hours and on weekends at the Dairy Bar, since most of the Dairy Bar traffic was after school hours and on weekends. One of the “secrets” of the Dairy Bar was the ice fights between the “bartenders” in the back of the building when the customer count was low. When the Beatles were hot, many females filled a car and have ice cream or a soda drink in their car while the boom box radio screamed out the Beatles music being played. A secret, only now being exposed for the first time, was the “procedure”, near closing time and business was slow (usually 10 pm) and when no customer was present, was to move the clock hands up about 10 minutes so we could close shop a few minutes early (no adults were on the “late evening crew”). A&M Dairy was the gathering spot for highschoolers in Starkville after school hours, and particularly on weekends. The back of house (dairy bar) was the milk processing plant and “disbursements” to the milk trucks for home/restaurant/etc. delivery.

Edsel Stewart remembers...

The Dairy Bar was a great place...where most of the young people who had access to a vehicle or a friend that had one would congregate in the evenings and on the weekends to enjoy themselves as well as with milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, coca colas, etc. If you sat out there long enough, you would see just about everyone in town of your age. It was staffed during the day by a few older people including my mother for many years. In the afternoon (after school was out) it was staffed by teenagers trying to earn a little money to meet their needs as well as college students. I do not remember the names of many but some were John Thomas Moore (SHS Class of 57), myself, Larry Bell, and others.
People went there in the mornings for coffee and donuts as well as other drinks such as fresh squeezed orange juice or lemonade. Dr. John Locke, who taught Botany at the college for 42 years, was a regular. He was Mrs.Barbara Johnson and Dr. Will Locke’s father. Barbara married Allen Johnson whose father used to be SHS superintendent and they recently retired and moved back to Starkville. Another regular was Mr. Wilburn Sudduth, the father of Ann Sudduth Daniels, Margaret Sudduth Copeland, and Mary Sudduth Bell, who came for coffee and usually had someone with him to talk about plans for the city or the college.
John Thomas Moore’s father, also John Moore, and Professor J. S. Moore (Bully) Moore, head of Dairy Science at MSU and key person for getting the Co-operative Creamery established in 1912. “Bully” Moore got this nickname because when he lectured his class, he would always stand with his hand on the head of a mockup “bull” so the students began calling him Bully.
One of the individuals who worked driving milk trucks was Mr. R. L. McDavid who later was a Justice of the Peace and then became Mayor of Starkville. Mr. McDavid was on his milk route when he spotted someone in Mrs. Copeland’s yard and called the police. That someone turned out to be none other than Johnny Cash.
Another who worked for the Dairy as well as the Creamery was Charlie Thrasher who drove the athletic bus for SHS teams going to out of town games for many years. He also umpired hundreds of baseball games for the high school as well as the Youth baseball programs.
All of us working in the Dairy Bar had fun there as well as doing the job required. We had to clean up the place after closing each night and that too could be a lot of fun. Lemon fights, throwing water on each other; and, of course, making a giant banana split to eat before going home.
Sometimes on Friday nights, young people would come out and listen to the Friday night football game on the radio when the game was out of town. There were a lot of young people who worked at the Dairy Bar before I came along and a whole bunch more after I graduated from college and left town. Experience gained there has helped as we have gone through life.

Allen Johnson remembers...

I worked there as a soda jerk part time, from about 1955 till 1957, I can’t remember the exact dates. It was a good experience in more ways than one. It was a responsible job for a high school student as Edsel indicated but we had a lot of fun too. We worked mainly daytime during school months except on weekends. In the summer we worked days and evenings, alternating them week by week. Saturdays were long, especially when MSU had a home football game. We learned how to prepare all the soda fountain fare plus setting up all the extras such as carbonated water, simple syrup, toppings and whipped cream.
The evening work didn’t end at ten o’clock closing time as we swept and mopped the floor, cleaned tables, washed all the glassware and utensils, resupplied the freezers with ice cream, set up other supplies that had been depleted and did some minor accounting. That usually took another half hour and at times a few more minutes. Working in the cold room and walk-in freezer in the rear of the building was always a treat in the hot summertime.
We had curb service which I detested but we did offer it if it wasn’t raining. A quick blast of the car horn meant someone wanted curb service. The only tip I ever got (honest, three years working and received ONE tip) was handed to me when I retrieved the tray from the driver side window of a car I had waited on. The driver was an affluent male high school student with a new car which was full of girls. There were about six customers in the car; all ordered something different which I prepared and delivered to them. We collected payment with the order and returned the change when we brought the order out. Another horn signaled they were finished and we could retrieve the tray. When I came out to get the tray, the driver handed me a dime. “This is for you, my man,” he said. I gushed: “Oh! A dime! A dime! I finally got a tip!” As I look back on that incident I’m both proud and ashamed for treating him that way in front of half a dozen girls that he was trying to impress.
Once, but not on my shift, on a football Saturday the bar was open with about three workers, two high school workers and an older college student who had been working there for a long time. He was essentially the supervisor that afternoon until one of the regular employees would arrive. A bus pulled up outside and over 50 customers piled into Pyron’s all at once. He took off his apron, folded it up on the counter and walked out, leaving the two young high schoolers to take care of the business.
I probably shouldn’t tell this one, but I will anyway. There were two older ladies (with blue hair and older than I am now, and I’m 71) who came in regularly, sat in a booth and each ordered a lemonade, but “Please leave this much room at the top,” pointing to a spot about an inch from the top of the glass. Never did we see how they managed it but a few minutes after they were served the level of the lemonade was miraculously almost to the top of the glass. They left happy.
Pyron’s was a gathering place for the high school crowd whether they ordered anything or not. The busy time at night was right after the movie was over. Sometimes a group would drop by several times in one evening just to check it out, to see who’s there. If you wanted to find out who was going with whom, hang around Pyron’s. If you wanted to meet up with someone, drop by Pyron’s. Better than a cell phone! Never did we have any troublemakers or disturbances. Sometimes on the weekends we did have to run them out at closing time. The pay was minimum wage but we did have the extra benefit of sampling the products anytime we wanted to. The result of that was I didn’t eat any ice cream at all for about five years after I stopped working there.
To be honest, I wish it were still in business. I sure would like a hot fudge sundae right now.

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