William E. “Hap” Carty, a Ridgefield native who helped his sister and brother-in-law create and build the U-Haul corporate empire, died June 24. He was 95.
Carty’s sister, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, and her husband, L.S. “Sam” Shoen, got the idea to rent one-way moving trailers when they were unable to find one for their move from the Los Angeles area to Portland. As a result they could only bring what they could fit in their car.
In 1945, while on leave from the Army, 18-year-old Carty was recruited to help the couple with their brainstorm. Together they built the first U-Haul in a converted milk house on the Carty family’s ranch in Ridgefield. When he was discharged a year later, Hap Carty became U-Haul’s first full-time employee. Over the next 42 years he played many significant and leadership roles as the company grew and grew.
The timing for a trailer rental business was perfect. Americans were on the move after the war, and they still are today.
U-Haul is now based in Phoenix, but it all started in Ridgefield, where visitors are still reminded with a sign that reads, “Welcome to Ridgefield, birthplace of U-Haul.”
Carty spent much of his childhood in Ridgefield on horseback moving cattle or in a barn milking cows, according to his obituary in the Arizona Republic. By the time he got to high school, “he decided he had milked enough cows,” so he got a job as a pipefitter at the Kaiser Vancouver shipyard, working on escort aircraft carriers. He graduated from Ridgefield High in 1945.
Those metal working skills no doubt came in handy when building the first U-Haul trailers. As the company grew, Carty took night college classes that included business law, management, economics and engineering, according to a press release from U-Haul.
In 1952 Carty, his wife and their two children moved to Boston and established the first U-Haul manufacturing plant on the East Coast. As he told the story, it wasn’t easy.
“I had $500 with which to open Boston Trailer Manufacturing Company, but was on a $3 per diem allowance,” he said. “We ate a lot of hot dogs cooked over open fires as we made our way across the continent.”
Carty was named U-Haul marketing director in the 1960s and later became president of the U-Haul subsidiary Kar-Go International.
Carty went on to serve as president and chairman of the board for U-Haul International Inc. and in 1971 he extended U-Haul’s network of dealerships to 15,000, a record that stood for more than three decades.
In the 1970s, Carty was also instrumental in the opening of the U-Haul Technical Center, the only research and development facility of its kind in the world, in Tempe, Ariz., where he and his family lived for the last half of his life.
He retired in 1988 but remained on the board of directors of AMERCO, U-Haul’s parent company, through 2006.
Even then, he remained involved with the company, mentoring younger managers and attending U-Haul functions, including an employee’s 50th anniversary celebration just a week before he died.
J.T. Taylor, president of U-Haul International, described Carty’s influence on him.
“I can’t begin to describe how blessed I was to have Hap teach, mentor, and share his leadership with me,” he said. “Hap was a person of tremendous humility who played a profound, crucial role in the existence and success of our company. I am forever grateful for his help, support, and friendship. We will miss him tremendously.”
Carty credited his success in business to his hiring strategy, he told a company publication, AMERCO World (now U-Haul News), in 1981.
“I get them strong in areas I’m weak in, and we work together,” he said. “I’ve lived this way for many years and looked like a genius many times, because I had the buoyancy of good people.”
Carty is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary “Toni” Carty, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two of his sons and one daughter-in-law. His sister, Anna Carty Shoen, died in the 1950s; Sam Shoen died in 1999.
Visitation will be held June 30 at Richardson Funeral Home in Tempe followed on July 1 with a Mass of Christian Burial at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Tempe. Interment will follow at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Mesa, Ariz.