Like my colleague Bradley, I am no stranger to renting a vehicle from U-Haul. When I flipped motorcycles in 2018 I rented a U-Haul motorcycle trailer every couple of weeks and towed them using my trusty Smart Fortwo. U-Haul is typically known for its vehicle rentals and storage, but decades ago they rented absolutely everything from ATVs to VHS movies.
U-Haul was founded in 1945 by Leonard “Sam” Shoen. The company got its start by renting out distinctive orange and white cargo trailers from service stations. These service stations would serve as the backbone of U-Haul’s income until the 1973 oil crisis.
As the service stations closed down due to the lack of gas U-Haul began opening up their own self-contained facilities. These U-Haul built and owned facilities opened up broader horizons. By no longer needing to depend on tiny service stations, what else could U-Haul rent? Maybe they could become the go-to business to rent...anything? Check out this ad from U-Haul’s YouTube Channel:
The sheer number of items you could rent from U-Haul was staggering. You could walk into a U-Haul and walk out with canoes, tractors, paint sprayers and a whole Winnebago if you wanted to.
Say you wanted to have a party. However, you don’t have anything you needed to host it. Your grass hasn’t been mowed in months, you don’t have any supplies and what are you going to do without any movies? Come on, now.
Take a stroll to your local Michigan (and only Michigan) U-Haul corporate location and rent a lawnmower, a jet ski for the lake, some party supplies and sure why not...a U-Haul VHS cassette player with some movies. Yes, U-Haul once had seven video stores across Michigan amusingly named Haullywood Video Rentals. Look at this ad they placed in Playboy, of all places.
The video stores didn’t last too long as reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1986, fierce competition by established video rental companies proved too hard to beat.
But for me, the ultimate in U-Haul’s rent anything period were the camping trailers. If you wanted to go camping, you could have purchased any of the dozens of different fiberglass campers that were all of the rage in the 1970s and 1980s, like a Boler. Or you could have rented one of these. Meet the U-Haul CT13 Get-A-Way Camper and the VT16 Vacation Traveler.
According to information gathered by U-Haul camper owners, these trailers were developed by a U-Haul subsidiary called Rec-Vee World. The units were produced for only a short time from 1984 to 1985. Per VIN plates and owners, the trailers were made by the Dayton Trailer Manufacturing Company in Ohio, Youngstown Trailer Manufacturing in Ohio, and by U-Haul in Arizona. The CT13 and VT16 were 13 feet long and 16 feet long and both units had the standard fare of RV equipment like fridges, sinks, and furnaces. However, if you wanted a bathroom you had to step up to the VT16 and its bathroom didn’t have a shower.
U-Haul rented the campers alongside its other wild rentals from 1984 to 1992. Unfortunately, the products of its crazy 1980s ventures have almost all disappeared. I cannot even find a U-Haul jet ski anywhere on the Internet save for this wacky ad from U-Haul’s YouTube channel:
So far as I can tell, these videos are the only photographic evidence they ever sold more than the campers. U-Haul’s site doesn’t even make a mention of its past rental ventures.
It appears only the campers were sold and kept in good shape by the public, though they somewhat fell into obscurity alongside other fiberglass campers from companies that didn’t make it to the new millennium.
Even though I already have a school bus, the U-Haul CT13 remains a dream vehicle of mine. The CT13's dry weight is just low enough that I could tow it to local campgrounds using one of my Smarts. But I’m curious about the other rentals. If you have a picture of those ATVs, jet skis, and other rentals, I’d love to see them!