Hit the Road, Daddy

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

His business boomed in the 1950s as Americans hit the highway like never before. Somehow, he also found time to attend night school at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. In 1955, L.S. earned a law degree, finishing at the top of his class.

He drilled into his growing number of employees a quirky collection of sayings, such as "I believe in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get." Such homilies could have worked only if his people didn't see him as a phony. Many saw him as their guru. He was a demanding skinflint, but his employees knew he was usually loyal as hell--if they were loyal as hell.

L.S. kept a tight grip on the reins as U-Haul spread across the nation. He may have been in the trenches with the rest of his workers, but they were his trenches. An organizational chart depicted him in the center of U-Haul's universe, like a rental industry sun god.

Though L.S. hardly was ever home, life was good. He was building a major American company, his bank account kept growing and his family kept expanding. Sam had been followed by three more sons, Mike, Joe, and Mark; then daughter Mary Anna, and in 1956, Paul.

Then, on May 4, 1957, Anna Mary Shoen died of heart failure at the age of ANNA MARY SHOEN left behind a 41-year-old husband and six kids under the age of twelve. L.S. hired a succession of housekeepers to try to maintain a semblance of order in the Portland household. Then, Suzanne Gilbaugh came along.

She was a neighbor of the Shoens who, at 23, had just finished graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Family lore has it that L.S. saw Suzanne's photo while visiting her parents and decided to make a play for her. His tactics worked, and the two married in September 1958.

Mike--the second oldest--remembers he and Sam were shipped off to a boarding school the day after their dad remarried. That left four young children at home. As the oldest there, Joe and Mark forged a bond that lasts to this day.

In 1959, L.S. introduced a fleet of trucks for rent. He constantly was on the go, flying himself around the United States and Canada in a small plane to spread the gospel according to U-Haul.

He and Suzanne found time to start their own family. By 1966, they had added five little ones to the Shoen tribe--Jim, Sophia, Cecilia, Theresa, and Katrina.

L.S. moved U-Haul's headquarters to Phoenix in 1967. A city whose chief industry was and is growth, Phoenix was the perfect site for a business that was serving an increasingly mobile nation.

The family moved into a magnificent home on Tatum Boulevard in Paradise Valley that was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It's as long as a football field from one end to the other. The mailbox looked like a miniature U-Haul truck, in case anyone wondered who the new neighbors were.

Not that L.S. was interested in becoming one of the Valley's power brokers. No one ever saw him at a meeting of the Phoenix 40. He didn't join the country club set. There was work, family and more work.

All was well in the land of U-Haul in the 1960s. The company had no real competition and was experiencing phenomenal growth. But all was not well at home.

With a cluster of kids and a husband who was a working fool, Suzanne Shoen had a Herculean task. And she had troubles with young Joe and Mark almost from the start. Doc Sam, now 44, remembers his visits home from school.

"Joe and Mark would jump right in with how terrible Suzanne was, and how she had done this and that to them," Doc Sam says. "I didn't know what to think because I never had lived with her. I would tell them to try to calm down."

Mary Anna Eaton--the only daughter from L.S.'s first family--says she never had the problems with her stepmother that Joe and Mark did. "I was her `right-hand man, chief cook and bottle washer,' and that's how she introduced me to people," says Mary Anna, a mother of two who is studying architecture in Florida. "Mark and Joe solicited me to be in cahoots with them in their war against Suzanne, but I wouldn't bite. It was sick."

Suzanne's five children like to remember their childhoods fondly. Joe was their favorite, the four girls say, and their mom always was there for them. When L.S. was home, they recall, he showered them with affection and gifts.

"Dad had always said that money represents someone's hard work--that you don't take five bucks and do something foolish with it," Doc Sam remembers. "True or false, when I was coming up, I didn't think we had that much money. We lived middle-class. But when Joe and Mark turned sixteen, they got sports cars. Dad got soft in that respect."

He also was soft enough--gift tax incentives aside--to already have given his children most of his stock in Amerco. "When they're young, you see such promise and you want to do everything for them," he says. "Practically all babies are beautiful. So are young children. But you notice how they get when they get older. The genes take over. With some of my children, greed took over."

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