U-Haul History Profiled Ahead of Ridgefield Heritage Day

Reporter J.C. Cortez of The Reflector, a Washington state newspaper in Battle Ground near U-Haul Company’s birthplace of Ridgefield, has penned a superb profile ahead of Ridgefield’s Heritage Day celebration.

Cortez looks at the link between Company, community and the Carty family’s Ridgefield roots, retracing the infancy of the do-it-yourself moving giant with the help of U-Haul Executive Vice President Stuart Shoen.

Read the entire piece at thereflector.com. The following is an excerpt from the story:

U-Haul Company will join Ridgefield’s Heritage Day festivities on Sept. 12 with a celebration of its own heritage as the company, which was started in a garage in post-World War II Ridgefield, turns 70 years old.

James Carty was the very first white settler in what is now Ridgefield; his family would become inextricably linked to the city’s early history. Two generations later, his great-nephew William Carty would become a long-serving Washington state legislator.

Ridgefield is the birthplace of U-Haul
Ridgefield is the birthplace of U-Haul, which is celebrating 70 years of business.

In 1945, when Anna Mary Carty and her husband L.S. “Sam” Shoen had trouble finding a way to transport their belongings from California back home to the Northwest, the experience led them to make a decision that would alter their lives and their family for generations.

Without a way to move their belongings, they were forced to keep only what they could pack into their car. On that long drive home, they came up with the idea for the trailer rental company that would become the ubiquitous U-Haul.

The company, now based in Phoenix, AZ, is several decades removed from Washington, but the Carty family descendants who still manage the self-moving giant yet retain a strong connection to the town where it began, said Stuart Shoen, L.S. and Anna Mary’s grandson and current executive vice president of U-Haul.

Shoen has worked for the company for more than 20 years – 25, he says, if you count delivering office mail as a 10-year-old. Today, he manages about a third of the company’s home office, he said. He grew up far away from Washington, but returned to Ridgefield throughout his youth to visit his family.

“Ridgefield is a really special place for me,” he said by phone Thursday morning. “It has this really mythical status … it was where everything sprouted from.”

Shoen credits the company’s success to the lessons and ethics learned from his grandparents’ early lives in the Pacific Northwest.

“Anna Mary and L.S. both had those types of values,” he said. “I think Anna Mary certainly got that from her experience of being in a big family on a farm and everybody having to pitch in. I think that was huge.

“I think we’ve been successful at U-Haul because L.S. and Anna Mary very early focused us on that; we didn’t focus on making money, we didn’t focus on having fancy offices or any of those things. We focused on helping people who needed help.”

Shoen recalled his shock as a child at the area’s lush green landscape. When an aunt once tasked the family children with gathering blackberries for a pie, Shoen said he couldn’t help but try some. After a while, he had eaten everything he gathered.

1946 Carty Ranch House
The Carty Ranch House in Ridgefield is pictured here in 1946. The Carty Milk House, where U-Haul trailers were made, is pictured in the featured photo.

“I live in Phoenix and not much grows down here, and certainly nothing as delicious as blackberries,” he said. “It was a mind blowing experience as an 8-year-old to be able to just walk around and pick a berry … I went out to help pick berries for this pie and I just ate the profits, totally. I got myself so sick on berries.”

Today, U-Haul employs more than 20,000 people directly and contracts with 18,000 independent dealerships, a footprint that rivals fast food chains. The company operates 10 manufacturing plants and today owns more than 100,000 trailers and another 100,000 trucks, and owns about 4 million square feet of self-storage space.

Shoen traces it all back to his grandparents.

U-Haul is taking part in the Heritage Day festivities. Check back at myuhaulstory.com after Sept. 12 for additional stories and photos.

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