Tom covered every form of...
Tom covered every form of racing, from Bonneville to the Indianapolis 500, El Mirage to go-kart races in the early years as well as his other assignments for Petersen Publishing. "Petersen didn't know he was getting a photographer when he hired me," Tom says.
Jane Barrett, research editor for Road&Track magazine worked with Tom at Petersen Publishing from 1978 until he left the company. Barrett had this to say about Medley: "Tom and Rosemary were great dancers in their younger years, winning all sorts of contests. They spent many, many hours on the dance floor ... jitterbugging hours, not waltzing hours." Spencer Murray, founding editor of R&C, remembers when, "Fred Waingrow handled the day-to-day operations under Mr. Petersen, he was very stern, cold, demanding, and kinda feared. He had an office on the top floor next to Pete's office. That was the inner sanctum. If you ever got called up there, it was bad news.
"He called me and Tom, who was the publisher of R&C at the time, up to his office which was very spartan, but it had bright green carpet. Waingrow was sitting at the far end of the room at his desk. We knew he was looking for a secretary when he called us up there. Tom said, 'You don't need a secretary, you need a gardener.' Waingrow broke out laughing."
Tom became the scatter shield between management ("suits" as he called them) and his extremely talented staff, Gray Baskerville, Bud Bryan, Jim Jacobs, and Tex Smith. They were scribes, with skinned knuckles, whom any publisher would die for. When Tom, or the boys, got a harebrained idea, Tom ran with it and worried about repercussions from upstairs later. Tom hit on having "special issues" like the Nov. '73 "Chopped Top" issue. Why not get a '70s-looking Stroker to chop the letters ROD on the cover to roD (he was about to chop the "D") to emphasize what awaited inside? "I thought the suits were going to mess their pants when I got a wild idea to chop and channel the masthead ... you know, make it smaller. I had a little Stroker up there working on it to cut it down. Stroker was never in R&C per se, but I used him that one time." Tom respected the fact Stroker belonged to Hot Rod.
Tom's popularity is not just through his work over the years, it is his approachability. His coworkers noted that Tom was a "laid-back boss" who initiated the conversation with them and with the street rodders at events he attended.
Stroker in the Dragmaster...
Stroker in the Dragmaster VW-powered VolksRod. Tom's pencil sharpener had more miles on it than an Offy at Indy because it never sat idle for long. Stroker was not only busy providing "Laughs from here and there" in Hot Rod; Stroker later moonlighted for many of the Petersen Publishing advertisers and staff members on special occasions.
No, not that coupe. Tom is a pretty crack upholster, but he also wanted to fly. Living close to the Burbank and Glendale, California, airports helped to whet his whistle. Tom stopped by the Glendale Flight School in 1960-61 to inquire about lessons. "The upholstery in the planes was pretty shabby," noted Tom to the instructor. "I'll trade you new seats for flying lessons. When they came in for maintenance I'd go over, take the seats out, take them home, and re-upholster them. That's how I got my license."
In the meantime Tom acquired a military '49 ERCO Ercoupe for $1,500, which was the safest, fixed-wing aircraft at the time. Before Tom flew the single-engine plane he took the wings off and snuck it in his backyard to restore it. He probably didn't have to sneak it in because the neighbors knew that having a cartoonist on the block, there was no tellin' what he'd drag home next. They'd seen it all from go-karts to hot rods and slot cars (oh yeah, Tom built a slot car track in his backyard for his son, Gary, and the kids on the block). So of course he'd have an airplane in his backyard.
Turn Out the Lights
Jack Chisenhall, president of Vintage Air, was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the Air Force at the time he attended the 2nd Rod & Custom Street Rod Nationals in Memphis in 1971. "Tom stood up on the stage and told all of us that Petersen Publishing had decided they were not going to publish R&C anymore. I walked up later and shook Tom's hand to thank him for telling us the real story. I saw tears from some of the people in the audience; it was a heavy deal. I've been a big fan of his ever since." Tom was as much in shock as the enthusiastic street rodders who attended the event when he broke the news. Tom only found out about R&C's fate shortly before he made the announcement.