Turn Me Loose
It's not every day a corporal...
It's not every day a corporal gets a call from a general. Commanding General Parker of the 78th Infantry Division in Germany, where Tom was assigned, knew of Tom's artistic talent. You're looking at the early genius of Tom for brilliantly chronicling (on two pages) the drive of the 78th during World War II. Tom's two pages did what a 30-page booklet took to describe the assault across Germany. Note how Tom circled the year, which he carried through with all his cartoons at Petersen: Cpl. Tom Medley, 45.
The staff at Hot Rod became known for the parties they threw. One Thanksgiving party, the staff members' wives and girlfriends thought they were getting frozen turkeys if they came up on stage. Tom was the emcee and always the instigator. It was the ladies who became frozen when they realized the turkeys were live!
At another party, Editor Wally Parks was asked by Tom to sit in a rocking chair that was rigged to look like a roadster he'd done. It was powered by a hamster in a treadmill. Tom's last touch was a slightly modified aircraft seat belt. Parks didn't know the belt couldn't be unlocked and therefore spent the entire party in the chair. Every time he rocked back a Model T bulb horn attached to the rocker would sound. He was left in the chair for the entire party. It's a good bet that Tom was nowhere to be found when Parks was released.
Educated Hot Rods
Where have all the hot rods gone? Why, to school, silly! Looking for fresh material for the magazine, Parks would grab Tom and the two would head out in Parks' '29 Ford roadster tooling all over town to every high school and junior college to scour the parking lots for hot rods.
"We'd see a cool rod and wait for the guy to come out of school and we'd have a car shoot right there and get it in the magazine. They said there weren't any hot rods on the street, but that's because they were all at school. On one occasion a whole football team stood around a guy's hot rod."
Tom wore other hats at Hot Rod besides Stroker, including becoming the ad manager: "I'd go out and hustle up some deals to guys like Vic Edelbrock. I'd show up in my '29 coupe and if Edelbrock was underneath a car, I'd grab a creeper and slide under it too to see what the hell he was doing. I'd shoot some pictures of his Flatheads; do a little caption on it, and get it in the magazine."
Tom hand-printed his work, even though he knew how to type. "There were some damn good typists at Hot Rod, one gal in particular who the guys liked to go to. She was fast and accurate. There was one guy at Motor Trend, they would send everything through him and he'd check for grammar and spelling."
Rosemary wasn't just a great dancer, but a whirl behind a keyboard as well. She did the entire catalog for Dean Moon (Moon Equipment Company) while Tom did the artwork.
Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena...
Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena launched a lot of careers, and a talented bunch of hot rodders gravitated to work or simply hang out there. Tom hung out to visit his friend Tim Timmerman, got to know the guys, and stuck a cartoon of Don's brother Bruce on the wall. Robert Petersen, who was there to peddle an ad to Blair, saw it. "Petersen called me and said, 'I like your stuff,'" Tom says. "How'd you like to go to work for Hot Rod magazine? I said, 'hell yes.'"
Just when the magazine was starting to grow, disaster struck: "We came to work one morning and the safe with a load of subscriptions that guys had written in for with money was stolen from the office. We didn't dare put something in the magazine about what happened because then everyone would say their subscription got lost. They later found the safe behind the big Hollywood sign; of course the money was long gone."
Tom began creating cartoon characters while in the military: "That's when I started doing 'Fearless Freddy Flash', an infantryman in the Army." Once at Hot Rod, Tom introduced a rodder simply as McGurk, but when the curtain rose in the third issue a full-blown Stroker McGurk with his now-famous Gatsby cap hit center stage.
Tom's cartoon character showed hot rodders, not much younger than Tom, how to solve problems by using their heads. "Stroker," began Tom, "did all the things that hot rodders did and got tangled up in. He always looked for a simple solution. Stroker never said anything. It was always pantomime. Pantomime was harder to do, it would have been easier to make a caption and throw it in there."
Tom resembled a silent movie at Petersen Publishing; he moved so fast from assignment to assignment: "I was shooting photos for three magazines at one time, plus the Stroker cartoons and artwork for some of the advertisers ... I was always gone on weekends.