Do you want to put creativity, as well as fun, into your business? Hire a gag cartoonist, 'cause nobody thinks like those comedic pencil pushers. That schnozzle, that lantern jaw (and that cool hot rod, too) may be material for their next cartoon character. Robert Petersen got all of the above and more when he hired 28-year-old Tom Medley in 1948 to add a little humor to his new mag about hot rods. Little did Mr. Petersen know his employee would become a much-beloved legend.

Tom, former publisher of Rod & Custom, recently turned 90 years young. I underscore "young" because I don't know many in his age bracket who own, let alone work on, their '40 Ford, campaign a go-kart, or high-tail it to Alaska to go fishing every year.

Tom's First Gig
"The Army had me fill out a form to see what I was good for. They listed me as a cartoonist and a mechanic. They sent me to Omaha to Motor Mechanic school; I was supposed to fight the war with wrenches," Tom laughs. (He laughs a lot.)

Allowed to go into town to a YMCA dance, Tom rode in on a deuce and a half (2 1/2-ton Army truck), got off, and walked back to a bar close by to have a beer (or two) instead of going to the dance. Tom was sitting on a curb waiting for the Army truck to pick up the soldiers when the dance let out.

"All of a sudden all these girls were walking by me so close I could touch them. My wife-to-be, Rosemary, walked by and I saw a good lookin' set of legs. I reached up and grabbed her by the skirt and said, 'Can you dance?' I got up and started dancing with her right under the street light. Best move I ever made." That chance-dance would lead to a love affair that lasted until Rosemary's death.

"I always wanted to be a sports cartoonist," Tom says (like New York Daily News' Bruce Stark or Tom's hero, award-winning New York World-Telegram's Willard Mullin. Tom has one of Mullin's baseball cartoons framed in his home). "I was a gym rat," laughs Tom. "I spent all my time in the gym. I used to sneak into every gym in town till I got thrown out.

"Because I was interested in gag cartoons, I started sending Rosemary letters and I'd put my cartoons on them. The Army started a newspaper. The guy who was the editor was also the sports editor for the Cincinnati Post and found out I did sports cartoons."

After the war ended, Tom was assigned to the Stars and Stripes newspaper in Paris, France, until he was discharged from the Army in 1946. Then it was back home to Oregon (Tom had already married Rosemary), when he got a call from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles (before they moved to Pasadena) to say he had been accepted.

Tom had sent cartoons that he did while in the Army to the school for consideration. He received the news on a Thursday but had to be in L.A. that Monday morning to sign in. He kicked it in high gear and headed there in his '36 Ford roadster. "I was taking advertising and design. The gal who ran my class said every ad layout I did had a cartoon on it. Well ... you betcha! I was there less than a year when I got the nod from Petersen."

Providence was in Tom's corner when he stuck his cartoon on the wall at Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena, California. It just so happened that Mr. Petersen, there to sell Don Blair an ad, spotted it.

You're Hired
"When Petersen called me he said, 'I like your stuff,'" Tom says. "How'd you like to go to work for Hot Rod magazine? I said, 'hell yes.' But Pete didn't even know I was a photographer. We had a lot of fun in those early days; I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Tom told his instructors he was leaving to work at a magazine. "What kind of magazine?" "A hot rod magazine," he replied. "What's a hot rod?" When Tom finished his description he was told summarily, he was making a big mistake. Yeah, right! Tom grabbed a fist-full of No. 2 pencils and began a journey that even Stroker couldn't conjure up.