14 Things You Might Not Know About U-Haul

Tim Boyle, Getty Images
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

If you’ve ever pulled up housing roots, you’ve probably realized that your accumulated possessions are more than enough to fill up a 26-foot-long rental truck. That’s good news for U-Haul, a company with 70 years invested in offering a fleet of vehicles to transport everything from furniture to cat stowaways. (More on that later.)

If helping entire households transplant themselves sounds like a mammoth undertaking, it is: The family-owned and operated company has seen its share of growing pains over the years. Check out some facts on corporate fistfights, a CEO fond of tossing money out the window, and which of their moving supplies are safe to eat.

1. U-Haul once compared its trucks to covered wagons. 

When Leonard "Sam" Shoen and his wife wanted to move from Los Angeles to Portland in 1945, they found that no one was willing to rent them a one-way trailer. Shoen, who had just been discharged from the Navy, saw a need to enable families in a post-World War II economy to relocate on their own. He began U-Haul that same year, with the company comparing the trucks to the covered wagons of the early frontier. Customers could rent the trailers for $2 per day—a small price to enable what Leonard's son Joe would later call a “better life.”

2. U-Haul's orange color scheme is a safety thing. 

Originally, Shoen had painted his trailers black. That proved to be a problem when he made a turn at a four-way intersection and got hit by an oncoming vehicle because—according to the other driver—he couldn’t see Shoen. The U-Haul owner immediately set about copying the bright orange design he had seen on highway barricades so his fleet would be visible to other drivers on the road. The distinctive paint job also made the vehicles double as portable billboards for the company.

3. U-Haul trusted their trailers to complete strangers. 

Before U-Haul was able to establish a footprint in every major city across America, their strategy was to entice local business owners to become “agents” for the company by dropping off rented trailers at motor vehicle service stations. Customers would drive to their destination, find a station, and leave the trailer (trucks weren’t introduced until 1959) along with a packet of information about becoming an official dealer. Though it risked losing their haulers to disreputable owners, the tactic paid off: By 1954, the company had over 1000 locations.

4. U-Haul used to rent VHS tapes.

The oil crisis of the 1970s closed many service stations, a fixture of the company’s business. Opening self-contained rental facilities enabled U-Haul to stamp their familiar orange brand across a variety of rentals: RVs, jet skis, lawn mowers, paint sprayers, and even party supplies were among their offerings in the 1980s. The most dramatic off-message business: VHS tapes. U-Haul opened seven locations in Michigan in 1985 that rented movies [PDF]. (It operated under the name Haullywood Video Rentals.) Customers could also make use of a free VCR rental that was customized with the familiar orange chassis. Lack of inventory and competition from the thousands of video stores that popped up that decade suffocated their business, though, and the company soon returned to their core hauling services.

5. The U-Haul family got into a nasty feud. 

Shoen’s 12 sons and daughters often had disparate ideas for the direction of the company. In 1979, the founder made son Sam Shoen CEO, leading Sam’s brothers, Joe and Mark, to quit. Hostilities boiled over to the point that, according to Bloomberg, Leonard once accused the duo of being involved in a plot to murder Sam’s wife, Eva, in 1990. (She was shot and killed during an attempted robbery.) Mark filed a defamation suit that was thrown out of court due to his status as a public figure. According to the Associated Press, a man named Frank Marquis confessed to the murder during his 1994 trial. His arrest grew out of a tip that came in after a segment on the crime aired on Unsolved Mysteries.  

6. A U-Haul shareholder's meeting erupted into a brawl.

The Shoens’ familial strife came to a head in 1989, when many company principals were in attendance for a shareholders' meeting in Reno, Nevada. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mark Shoen got into a verbal altercation with brothers Sam and Michael. Tempers grew so heated that Michael was “pummeled” by Mark and Joe. The senior Shoen, who had been forced into retirement during the power scuffle in 1986, observed of his business that he had “created a monster.”  

7. The founder of U-Haul liked to toss money out of windows. 

IStock

Though the company seemed relatively calm under his watch, Leonard Shoen was far from being a demure chairman. To demonstrate the ease with which a corporation could waste money, Shoen arranged for a visual by appearing in front of employees during a meeting in 1970 and tossing $1000 out of the window. Anyone who found the action objectionable was forced to watch it anyway: Shoen had placed an armed guard at the door.

8. U-Haul once banned Ford Explorers. 

Besieged by complaints of turnovers and vehicular accidents owing to improper loading precautions on their trailers, U-Haul took the unusual step of refusing to rent trailers to anyone intending to attach one to a Ford Explorer beginning in 2003. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times feature, the company’s reasoning was that Explorer SUVs were frequently the target of safety litigation, inviting greater potential for U-Haul to become involved in a lawsuit. (Defective tires on 1998 Explorer models resulted in several fatalities.)

9. The CEO of U-Haul gave out his personal phone number for anyone to use.

When news media, including The Los Angeles Times, reported on a series of turnover accidents involving U-Haul fleet vehicles in 2007, current CEO Edward “Joe” Shoen didn’t hide behind a corporate-speak press release: He appeared on Inside Edition to explain that the accidents were likely due to improper loading. If any customer had questions about the vehicles or the company, he said, they could phone him directly. He kept his promise: Shoen has answered the phone on Mother’s Day, at home, and at 5:45 a.m. Most days he’ll get between three and 10 calls. “Sometimes, though, someone may post something angry on the Internet with my phone number, and then I’ll get 100 calls in one day,” he said in 2013.

10. Cats like to hitch rides in U-Haul vehicles. 

Marco Varisco, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Several felines have been discovered among boxed-up belongings in U-Haul vehicles. One stray used a truck as a delivery room, giving birth to a kitten as a family drove from Florida to Utah; a cat missing for nearly two years was found across the country, tucked away in a U-Haul, and returned to its owner thanks to a microchip. The cat, Kevin, was an orange tabby.

11. Pythons also enjoy U-Haul rides. 

While litters of kittens are adorable discoveries, monster reptiles are significantly less charming. An Oregon customer drove a U-Haul truck for an entire day without realizing a 3-foot-long ball python had been curled up in the passenger-side leg space right next to him. No one is entirely sure how the snake got in the cab.

12. Marriages have been proposed inside of U-Haul trucks. 

Indiana resident Mark Nolt hatched a unique plan to propose marriage to his girlfriend, Kim Shannon, in 1992. Nolt took her to a drive-in where he and a friend had spent the afternoon preparing a truck to look like a cozy dining area with a table, chairs, and flowers. The friend, Kyle, called it “exquisitely tacky,” but it apparently had charm: Kim said yes.

13. The space above a U-Haul cab is called "Mom's Attic." 

Though the origin of the name remains a mystery, the company has a specific label for the small storage space that appears above the driver’s cab on its trucks and vans: Mom’s Attic. The area is usually reserved for fragile items that may not survive a trip in the body of the vehicle. U-Haul claims items stored here are as stable as they would be in the cab itself.  

14. U-Haul packing peanuts are edible. 

Citing concerns over the lack of biodegradability of conventional Styrofoam packing peanuts, U-Haul opted for a more eco-friendly alternative in 1993. Their in-house peanuts are made of corn and potato starch that totally dissolve in water, eliminating both environmental harm and the potential for a child or pet to harm themselves via ingestion. U-Haul staffers have even eaten the peanuts to demonstrate their virtues—though we wouldn’t recommend it.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

17 Facts About Airplane! On Its 40th Anniversary

Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Shot on a budget of $3.5 million, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker wrote and directed Airplane!, a movie intended to parody the onslaught of disaster movies that graced movie theater screens in the 1970s. The comedy classic, which arrived in theaters on July 2, 1980, ended up making more than $83.4 million in theaters in the United States alone, and resurrecting a few acting careers in the process. Here are some things you might not have known about the comedy classic on its 40th anniversary.

1. Airplane! was almost a direct parody of the 1957 movie Zero Hour!

Shorewood, Wisconsin childhood friends Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker grew up and moved to Los Angeles, where they were responsible for the sketch comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater. The trio made a habit of recording late-night television, looking for commercials to make fun of for their video and film parodies, which is how they discovered Zero Hour!, which also featured a protagonist named Ted Stryker (in Airplane! it's Ted Striker). In order to make sure the camera angles and lighting on Airplane! were matching those of Zero Hour!, the trio always had the movie queued up on set. Yes, the three filmmakers did buy the rights to their semi source material.

2. Universal thought Airplane! was too similar to their Airport franchise.

Universal released four plane disaster movies in the seventies: Airport in 1970; Airport 1975 (confusingly in 1974); Airport ‘77; and The Concorde ... Airport ‘79. Helen Reddy portrayed Sister Ruth in Airport 1975 and was game to play Sister Angelina in Airplane! before Universal stepped in and threatened to sue. Instead, the role went to Maureen McGovern, who sang the Oscar-winning theme songs to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—two movies that were also “disaster” movies, albeit ones not involving a plane.

3. David Letterman, Sigourney Weaver, and other future stars auditioned for Airplane!

In early conversations regarding Airplane!, Paramount Studios suggested Dom DeLuise for what would eventually become Leslie Nielsen’s role, and Barry Manilow for the role of Ted Striker, but they were never asked to audition.

4. Chevy Chase was mistakenly announced as the star of Airplane!.

Chevy Chase was erroneously announced as the star of Airplane! in a 1979 news item in The Hollywood Reporter.

5. The role of Roger Murdock was written with Pete Rose in mind.

Pete Rose was busy playing baseball when Airplane! was shot in August, so they cast Kareem Abdul-Jabbar instead.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got a pretty swanky carpet out of his Airplane! gig.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, and Rossie Harris in Airplane! (1980)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rossie Harris, and Peter Graves in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s agent insisted on an extra $5000 to the original offer of a $30,000 salary so that the basketball legend could purchase an oriental rug he'd had his eye on.

7. Peter Graves thought the Airplane! script was "tasteless trash."

Peter Graves eventually found the humor in the film, including the pedophilia jokes, and agreed to play Captain Oveur. Graves's wife was glad he took the role; she laughed throughout the premiere screening.

8. No, the child actor playing young Joey didn't know what Peter Graves was actually saying.

Rossie Harris was only 9 years old when he played the role of Joey, so did not understand the humor in Turkish prisons, gladiator movies, or any of Oveur’s other comments. But by the time he turned 10 and saw the movie, Harris had apparently figured it out.

9. Airplane! marked Ethel Merman's final film appearance.

"The undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage” played a disturbed soldier who believed he was Ethel Merman. Merman passed away in 1984.

10. Michael Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul was in Airplane!.

Jonathan Banks plays air traffic controller Gunderson.

11. Airplane!'s three-director setup caused legal problems.

The Directors Guild of America ruled that Abrahams and the two Zuckers couldn’t all be credited for directing a movie, nor be credited under the single “fictitious name of Abrahams N. Zuckers.” A DGA rep was on set to make sure that only Jerry Zucker spoke to the actors. What he saw was Jerry Zucker next to the camera, who would then go to a nearby trailer where the other two were watching the takes on a video feed, and come back to give notes to the actors after conferring with his partners. A DGA executive board eventually gave the three one-time rights to all share the credit.

12. A BIT ABOUT BLIND POLISH AIRLINE PILOTS WAS WRITTEN AND FILMED.

Blind singer José Feliciano, and lookalikes of blind singers Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, played Polish airline co-pilots. The Polish-American League protested, and it was determined by the writer-directors that the idea wasn’t funny enough to stay in the movie.

13. Robert Hays was starring in a TV show at the same time he was filming Airplane!

Robert Hays, the actor who played Ted Striker, had to race back and forth between the sets of Angie and Airplane! for two very busy weeks. The theme song to Angie was performed by the one and only Maureen McGovern.

14. Robert Hays was—and is—a licensed pilot.

He can even fly the ones with four engines.

15. Leslie Nielsen had a lot of fun with his fart machine.

Leslie Nielsen sold portable fart machines for $7 apiece on set, causing a brief epidemic of fart noises emanating from most of the cast and crew and delaying production. When they were shooting Hays’s close-up, Nielsen used the machine after every other word of his line, “Mr. Striker, can you land this plane?”

16. Stephen Stucker came up with all of Johnny's lines.

Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker in Airplane! (1980)
Stephen Stucker and Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Stephen Stucker was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater. His line “Me John, Big Tree” was part of an old riff he used to do, which continued with him going down on his knees and putting an ear to the ground to hear when a wagon train was arriving.

17. The original rough cut of Airplane! was 115 minutes long.

After screenings at three college campuses and two theaters, the film was cut down to 88 minutes.