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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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Clark County History: U-Haul


After World War II, America was on the move. So were Leonard “Sam” Shoen and his wife, the former Anna Mary Carty. Having no way to transport their belongings from California when they moved to Ridgefield, they left them behind.

Together, Sam, 29, and Anna, 23, founded U-Haul, which would move generations of families and become one of America’s best-known brands.

Before joining the U.S. Navy, Sam ran barber and beauty shops in Corvallis to work his way through the Oregon State University and a pre-med degree in 1943. After admission to the University of Oregon Medical School, he answered roll call for another student and was suspended, never to return. Sam served as a stateside Navy hospital assistant until his discharge for rheumatic fever. In the mid-1950s, he completed a legal degree at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

A member of the well-off Carty family whose roots reached back to Hudson’s Bay Company days, Anna was born with a heart problem. Yet she never shirked work around the family’s Ridgefield ranch and graduated from Portland’s Marylhurst College. She secured the ranch’s old milking shed to build the first trailers.

But to get rolling, Sam bought the first trailers from a Salem, Ore., welding company whose employees fabricated trailers in their spare time. Initially, no two were alike.

Building the business meant signing up dealers. So Sam traveled, often sleeping in his car and living on hamburgers. He built up $2-a-day rental trailer dealerships in Portland and Seattle early on, and then added more city by city. As the only repairman, Sam fixed the trailers as well. U-Haul had 10,000 one-way rental trailers and trucks on the roads in 10 years.

Anna handled the books and looked after the couple’s six children during Sam’s long absences until her heart failed in 1957. Sam remarried twice more, sired seven more children, and created Amerco to diversify his financial holdings.

In 1967, he moved U-Haul headquarters to Phoenix, Ariz. Perhaps Sam felt that because of his long absences, he owed his children his wealth and gave them stock. However, family infighting and accusations of mental instability led to Sam’s ouster from the company in 1986 by his children, who by then owned 94 percent of the company stock.

In 1990, the home-invasion murder of daughter-in-law Eva sent the family into an emotional tailspin. Eva’s daughter found her mother’s lifeless body sprawled on the stairs the following day. Sam accused his children. Family members accused each other and employees. The television tabloid “Hard Copy” ran the sensational story.

In 1993, “Unsolved Mysteries” reran a segment that produced results. Kelly Lemons phoned Arizona’s San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, saying his brother-in-law, Frank Marquis, bragged about shooting Eva.

Then living in Las Vegas, Sam had spent years ruminating over which child would kill to gain Amerco control. He doubted Marquis’ confession and believed Eva’s husband, his oldest son, Samuel, was the target. In 1999, Sam drove his car into an electrical pole. The Clark County, Nev., coroners’s office ruled it suicide.

Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.