The Highland Plating Special Track T perfectly illustrates how timeless a traditional car
Many states were passing laws that were detrimental to the sport. Street rodders of the '60s had become lightning rods, much like the hot rodders of the '40s. The public perception was poor. Tom wanted more than an association dedicated to a yearly car show-he wanted clout.
"Street is Neat" was more than a catchy phrase coined by Tom. He surrounded himself with a now-legendary staff that was as proficient at changing typewriter ribbons (remember those?) as they were changing a cam in a Riley four-port: Editor Bud Bryan, Associate Editor Jim "Jake" Jacobs, and freelancer Tex Smith.
Dave Lukkari of Apple Valley, CA, has made every Street Rod Nationals since Peoria. Dave r
"The idea of having a street rod nationals blossomed right in Tom Medley's office," Bud stated. "We all went, "Let's do it!' The sport, at that point, was fragmented nationally. The Midwest and the East Coast guys didn't know much about the West Coast guys, and visa versa. Our plans were to get these guys together. Everybody was talking about cruises, but not many ventured out of state."
One of the reasons Tom chose "Jitney Jake" to become a staffer at R&C was he not only had a Ph.D. in early Ford parts, he was a street rodder to the core. "My daily driver was my street rod," Jake said. "I didn't own a store-bought automobile."
Tex Smith met Tom in 1957 when he was an associate editor with HRM. "We became instant fishing buddies," Tex said. "When Tom went to R&C, I had already left Petersen Publishing, I think in 1963, and began freelancing for a number of aircraft publications. On staff, I was making $125 a week. The year that I quit, I was making over $30,000 freelancing. I was busting my butt, but I was making some bread. I wasn't about to go back on the staff."
Fresh off the Road, bugs and all, Jim Jacobs' Ford Panel (which he still owns) was made to
Tex began freelancing in a big way for R&C: "Tom and I were fishing all of the time and we got to talking about where to take R&C. We felt that traditional street rodding was making a move and nobody was covering it," Tex said. "None of the other publications wanted anything to do with it. The advertisers felt that there was no market in street rodding and would not advertise at first. We got that niche and really took it over.
"We heard about this group in Madison, Wisconsin, that held some kind of event they called The Mid-States Rod Roundup with about a hundred or so rods. That sparked an idea," Tex continued. "Tom and I decided we would have the Rod & Custom Street Rod Nationals, which is what we called it.
"The problem was, R&C didn't have any feed money to put on such an event. We didn't have five bucks," laughed Tex.
Streetkhana was Greek to the uninformed passing by. And unless some of the street rodders
What the boys came up with was a plan to fund the project. Tex had some articles in R&C, like "How to Start a Car Club," so "when I got the check," he said, "I cashed it and gave the cash to Tom. That's how we got around [the money issue]. I think we had $700 to fund the first event."
The June '70 issue of R&C began promoting the August event: "It's official," began Tom's article. "All you thousands of street-oriented car enthusiasts are finally going to have a Big Thing all your own. All Roads Lead to Peoria."
R&C Americruise In The Making
Excitement and adventure awaited the rodders boogying across the country. Those experiences have stayed with those who went-including Bud, who rode shotgun in Jake's newly constructed '29 Model A panel truck. The two stopped at roadside diners and slept under the stars along the way.
"America was different then," pondered Jake. "You could sleep by the side of the road without worrying about getting robbed or worse."
Jake was a veteran when it came to long-distance driving, having driven to Iowa from California in his Model A pickup two years before Peoria, plus a number of trips with his folks. "I remember riding with my parents back to Iowa when they couldn't wait to get to Vegas. Not for the casinos, but to get to one of the air-conditioned department stores to cool off. I knew early on what it took to drive cross-county. I knew what to take and what not to take. But baling wire was a must," laughed Jake. "I actually wrapped it around the valve stem to keep a tire from going down on the trip.