WICHITA FALLS, Texas–One day in February 1950, a young man from Portland Ore., visited Wichita Falls in search of dealers for a new company called U-Haul. One stop on his search was Clyde Davis’ Phillips 66 service station.
“I wasn’t real impressed with the whole idea, but when he explained I wouldn’t be taking any risk, I figured I’d give it a try,” Davis recalled in a 1979 interview.
The proposition presented to Davis was that U-Haul Company would put a few trailers on his service station lot and pay him commission every time he rented one – to anywhere.
“Rent anywhere! It sounded too crazy to believe!” Davis exclaimed in the same interview. “Why you could just picture those U-Haul fellows trying to run down all those trailers all over the country, going this way and that.”
However, what Davis had initially thought of as a “harebrained scheme” would eventually become much more successful than he, or anyone else, could have ever imagined.
When Davis neared his 30th anniversary as a dealer, he didn’t believe he had ever a day go by without making at least one rental.
“Wonder what ever happened to that fellow who signed me up as a dealer. You reckon he ever amounted to anything?” Davis joked in a 1972 interview.
He knew the answer, of course, because that fellow was U-Haul co-founder L.S. “Sam” Shoen.
Decades of dedicated service
Davis began his career as a mechanic in 1918 and opened his service station in 1949, when he decided it was time to be his own boss. He had been open less than a year when Shoen came around looking for dealers.
When Davis signed on in 1950, he became the third U-Haul Dealer in Texas and the only one in Wichita Falls. By 1980 he was the state’s senior dealer and at age 80, one of the oldest active U-Haul Dealers. Yet he was still putting in 12-hour days and had no intention of quitting or slowing down.
“They’ll have to carry me out feet first,” Davis declared at the time.
In the 1980s, Davis closed down his original service station, moved his dealership to a smaller building nearby and renamed it Davis Service Company.
In 1990 Davis celebrated his 40th anniversary as a U-Haul Dealer. At the time, he got to boast the title of 2nd most senior dealer in the entire Company, but even at 90 he was still working hard.
“You’ve got to keep busy,” Davis emphasized. “If you want to stay, you’ve got to play.”
From skeptical dealer to Mr. U-Haul
Davis passed away in 1998 at the age of 98. His wife had passed before him, but he was survived by his two sons, Dan and Bill, the latter of whom had worked with him at the dealership.
Part of the reason for Davis’ success and longevity as a dealer was his strong customer orientation.
“Mr. Davis is known in Wichita Falls as Mr. U-Haul, and has had some of the same customers for 40 years,” remarked Wichita Falls native and Assistant to the President Logan Frank, back in a 1990 interview.
“Davis is a typical example of the hardworking dealers who joined U-Haul before it was a household name,” Frank added.
When asked to summarize his several decades with U-Haul, Davis pondered for a moment then replied, “Sometimes easy, sometimes hard, but always interesting.”