If you’re driving on a highway in the middle of America’s vast, flat interior, it’s possible that the only artwork you may encounter for many hours at a time is a colorful mural applied to the flat sides of a rental moving truck. I suspect everyone reading this has seen what I’m talking about: those big mural graphics on the sides of U-Haul vans, trucks, and trailers, usually themed by a given U.S. state or some kind of fact, often about animals. They’re fun! When you’ve been staring at a gray Oklahoma horizon for what feels like a clamtillion hours, having a huge colorful picture of a spy plane or a meat-eating plant or a red panda drive past your window may be the only thing that staves off the advent of Road Madness. U-Haul calls these mobile murals SuperGraphics, and I just learned that they almost all have a little Easter Egg hidden in them, in the form of a strange little guy named Sammy U.
Somehow this important tidbit of modern life had eluded me all these decades. I found out only a few days ago when our own David Tracy rented a U-Haul van to haul the piles of rusty garbage he euphemistically calls his “stuff” from Detroit to Los Angeles. His U-Haul, which he found to be a profoundly luxurious and decadent machine, had a graphic on the side that featured a large camel’s head, and a fact about how camels once migrated across the Yukon. Here, look for yourself:
There’s that big, majestic camel head! Now, what I was told by a U-Haul employee when we were picking up the truck was that there was “a little guy holding a U” hidden in all of these graphics. I wasn’t sure what the guy looked like, but, intrigued, I scrutinized the mural, seeking out any little dudes that might be sequestered within. In a few minutes, I caught a lucky break and saw this:
Hey! There is a little guy with a U there! Who is this fella? Well, a bit of research revealed that this is Sammy U, and he works for U-Haul in their fictional cartoon mascot division. Also, I think I disagree with the U-Haul employee: Sammy isn’t holding a U, his arms are a U. His handless, thick, always upraised arms form a vowel, and that’s just something he has to live with. He’s smiling and winking, so I guess he’s cool with it.
Sammy U has been U-Haul’s mascot since 1947, just a few years after U-Haul’s founding in 1945 by Leonard Samuel Shoen and his wife Anna Mary after they found there was no real way for people to move on their own without the expense of hiring a moving company. You can see a 1950s-era Sammy U (presumably named after the founding L.Sammy) on a truck here:
It appears that for most mainstream use, Sammy U has been retired and replaced with a sort of cardboard golem named Box Man:
Holy crap, you can buy Box Man toys? I suppose he’s also a real gift to lazy Halloween costume DIYers, too.
Box people aside, the U-Haul story is actually full of drama; Shoen had 12 (maybe 13?) kids, and they all had shares in the company, but there was a lot of infighting. And not just boring infighting. We’re talking literal fistfights at board meetings and accusations of murder. That’s pretty dark stuff, though, we’re just talking about a little old-school mascot being hidden in some fun truck graphics, after all, so let’s get back to that.
The whole SuperGraphics program started in 1988 and there are over 250 individual ones. The SuperGraphics that contain the hidden mascot were designed by Steve King, who was contracted to make the designs starting in 1997 and continuing until 2013. Here’s what King has to say about hiding Sammy in his images:
The first four graphics I designed (Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, and California) do not have the little guy incorporated in it. It wasn’t until the fifth graphic (Arizona) that the character appeared in the artwork. While researching reference I stumbled across a logo stamped in a computer microchip under a microscope. I decided to incorporate the mascot in the graphic and it became a “must have” in every graphic. At the time, my six year old daughter Samantha (no relation to “Sammy U” just a coincidence) would tell me where to hide “Sammy U” for each graphic. She has been hiding them for me through the entire series, until she was 23.
King’s site also has a guide of where to find Sammy on a number of the graphics; I don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery for you, so I won’t re-post that here, but if you want to cheat, here’s the link.
Finding Sammy U isn’t exactly easy; he’s small and pretty well camouflaged into the designs, so I wouldn’t recommend Sammy hunting if you’re actually driving. But if you see one parked, I think it’s a worthwhile use of your time to try and hunt the little guy down. Could be a great way to kill time in parking lots if you need to! Embrace the mundane mysteries of life!
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