Hit the Road, Daddy

U-HAUL's founder never imagined his own kids would be the corporate raiders of his great American dream

But Joe's hostile siblings say he's a bully, and that their brother Mark--U-Haul's president of advertising and marketing--is a thug. "Joe and Mark embrace belligerence and arrogance," says their sister, Mary Anna Eaton, of Boynton Beach, Florida. "I call it bizarre."

Clinging to the safety net of "pending litigation," neither Joe nor the others in power at U-Haul will talk publicly about the uncivil family war. But they have said plenty in court testimony and in letters to other family members.

"The kind of lies that we have seen here," Joe testified a few months ago in a deposition, "that I cut my thumb off in a paper shredder shredding documents with the general counsel of Amerco, that I hustled documents out of the building in the middle of the night, that I carry a gun. These sorts of things have prejudiced me massively in my dealings with the IRS. They think I'm this sort of a person, that I engage in this sort of behavior on a systematic basis, and that they have reason to apprehend me as an enemy of society. I don't view myself as an enemy of society."

Joe's youngest sister, Katrina, sees it like this:
"I think in my family it has gotten far beyond a fight over money," says the 22- year-old aspiring opera singer who lives near Washington, D.C. "It's power and greed, stuff I don't understand. I don't work in those terms. No one's evil--not Joe, not Mark. But there is so much hurt. It's all overwhelming."

THE TWIN U-HAUL TOWERS on Phoenix's Central Avenue have been nicknamed the Beirut Hilton by someone who works there. An ex-employee jokes that those zany Chinese white-marble lions that L.S. stuck out front a few years ago ought to be turned around to face the towers. You see, the lions are supposed to ward off evil spirits.

When L.S. started U-Haul in 1945, he had only debt collectors to ward off. L.S., now 73, was born in Minnesota and grew up in Oregon, the second oldest of seven siblings. His oft-told story is textbook American Dream:

His dad mostly failed as a businessman and farmer, but the kids never went hungry. L.S.'s mother--who still lives in Oregon at the age of 94--worked alongside her husband while raising her children. During the Great Depression, L.S. picked strawberries, cherries, loganberries, you name it, to make his pennies. After high school, he worked as a barber while attending Oregon State. A born wheeler-dealer, he opened four barber shops while still an undergraduate.

Most of his barbers got drafted or enlisted after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. L.S. started medical school at the University of Oregon and rebuilt his hair-cutting business. He was known as "Slick," for his ability to make a fast buck.

In 1943, L.S. was sworn into the Navy for what was supposed to be a four-year hitch as a medical officer. He was expelled during his last year at school, however, after he answered in class for an absent lab partner. Soon after, he was sent to Navy boot camp as a recruit.

On February 5, 1944, L.S. married 21- year-old Anna Mary Carty, whom he had met in Portland where she was attending college. He now says he never wanted to get married, much less raise a family. Anna Mary had a congenital heart condition, but doctors told her she could have children. A devout Catholic, she had six kids before dying just thirteen years later.

Later in 1944, L.S. contracted rheumatic and scarlet fevers. While recuperating at a Navy hospital in southern California, he played with the idea of U-Haul.

On a previous trip to Los Angeles, he had seen small automobile trailers being rented locally for about $2 per day. He didn't think anyone was doing this in the Northwest, and he also had this novel notion of one-way rentals.

After the Navy discharged him in the summer of 1945, L.S., Anna Mary and their newborn son, Samuel, drove to Los Angeles in their 1937 Ford to talk to the few men who ran local trailer-rental shops. Then it was off to Oregon to give it a whirl.

He was 29 years old and had about $5,000--$4,000 in cash and $1,000 in leftover barber's equipment. "I knew then I just had to make this $5,000 count or I would be behind the eight ball," L.S. said later.

Back in Portland, he cut hair and bought a few thousand dollars' worth of trailers to rent out. L.S. soon started building his own trailers and painted them bright orange to make them recognizable.

L.S. called his new business U-Haul, but never could remember if he or Anna Mary had come up with the name. He started to rent his trailers out of gas stations around Portland, with station operators keeping 40 percent of the take. That was a first.

He took the next step in 1946 with his expanding fleet of about seventy trailers. He initiated one-way service, renting small box-type trailers between Seattle and Portland for $5. It wasn't rocket science, but it worked.

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