Hit the Road, Daddy

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

But that was later. Back at the Tatum House, the war escalated between Joe, Mark, and their stepmother Suzanne. She tries to put the best face on it. "I remember the first time one of them said, `I hate you,'" Suzanne Shoen Anderson tells New Times. "I really got broken up about it. Then L.S. told me, `I guess you're doing your job.' I guess I was. I loved my children equally, all of them."

But Suzanne's stepson, Mark, was a hothead, a problem that continued to plague him as an adult. In 1967, after a brawl between Mark and his stepmother, L.S. moved Mark into a midtown Phoenix apartment.

It was around that time that Joe starred in what a family member calls "The Night Joe Almost Killed Suzanne." It went something like this: Joe allegedly questioned Suzanne's fidelity to L.S. and phoned big brother Doc Sam--who by then was studying medicine at the University of Arizona. Joe told Sam he was going to shoot Suzanne when she got home later that night.

Accounts conflict about what happened next. Doc Sam says he told Joe to calm down and not to do anything rash. Joe later told others it was Sam who had tried to convince him to shoot Suzanne. Whatever the truth, Suzanne survived, and now is one of Joe's strongest supporters.

"I was protected and Joe was protected from something disastrous happening that night," says Suzanne, a Scottsdale resident who was divorced from L.S. in 1977. "We were protected by God. Joe is very intelligent, bright, well read and very, very capable. I don't think U-Haul could be in better hands."

In the late 1960s, L.S. took a novel approach to try to glue his family together. He purchased Legend City, a Phoenix amusement park south of Papago Park. Legend City was a family project, with the Shoen kids helping out when their school schedules allowed. L.S. sold it after a few years of losing money.

L.S. was as hard-working--and as eccentric--as ever. On June 2, 1970, he locked the conference room doors on the eleventh floor at U-Haul and lectured his sixty top executives about money. To make his point, he pulled a thousand dollars in cash from his pocket, opened a window and flung the fistful of bills into the air. News accounts describe an instant traffic jam, as drivers poured out of their cars on Central to catch the falling bucks.

But L.S. was just biding his time. By 1974, he was ready to launch U-Haul into a decade of massive expansion. He called it an "economic war" and predicted that the company would reach new heights. It did, but then L.S. discovered that the higher you climb, the harder you can fall.

L.S. SHOEN SWEPT U-Haul into a financial whirlwind during the 1970s. He reminisced about it during his farewell speech at the 1986 Celebration of Love and Respect:

"Back in the early Seventies, and `73, when gas prices came on, the marketing outlet that we had was going to disappear. Where is your service station today? They're at your fast-food places. We did correctly foresee that and anticipate that.

"And it took a monumental amount of courage to go out and establish this network of some 1,200 U-Haul centers. . . . Conquering that territory during this war, there were many casualties. There were many victims--I was one of the casualties. My son Joe knows that I was one of the casualties. My son Sam knows--I think maybe all my sons know it. I was a casualty and I was out of it for a good year. My sons tried to, and did carry on for me at that time. Now some of them became casualties in this situation."

It always had been a given that L.S.'s children, especially his boys, would go into the family business. The older Shoen children were coming of age in the 1970s, and some of them started to have major roles at U-Haul.

But Sam, the oldest child, had decided that he wanted to be a doctor. A dime store psychologist might say he wanted to finish what L.S. hadn't been able to three decades earlier. Sam says he just wanted to study medicine.

Doc Sam--as everyone soon started calling him--finished first in his class at the University of Arizona medical school. However, he quit only a year from finishing his residency in 1971, and went to work full-time for U-Haul.

Soon, Doc Sam, Mike, Joe, and Mark--all still in their twenties--were working for the company as top executives.

"It was pretty amazing, these Shoen kids all of a sudden up there," says a long-time U-Haul employee who requested anonymity. "You could see that Joe had the potential to do good work, and so did Sam. You also could see that they didn't have the maturity or experience to have so much power. And some of those kids, like Mike and Mark, are flat goofy."

L.S.'s marriage to Suzanne fell apart as he led U-Haul's expansion in the 1970s. He blames--you guessed it--sons Joe and Mark for the marriage's demise, saying they "pressured me" into filing for divorce.

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