As many of you have undoubtedly heard, Tom Medley passed away this past weekend. He was born in 1920 and would have turned 94 on March 20th of this year. When we think of Tom Medley the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is the jovial and slightly mischievous cartoon character that he created back in 1948; Stroker McGurk.

But, after hearing of his passing we began to give a little more thought to what he had accomplished in his lifetime and it is truly amazing. It has been said that there aren’t very many people who leave this world markedly different than it might have been if it weren’t for their efforts. Tom Medley was certainly such a person.

Tom with his '40 Ford DeLuxe in 1997 as shown in TRJ #7.

Tom with his ’40 Ford DeLuxe in 1997 as shown in TRJ #7.

 

Tom Medley Last Stroker McGurk Drawing

We reached out to Gary Medley upon hearing the news of his father’s passing. He kindly shared his father’s last Stroker McGurk sketch.

How many others can say that their names were on the masthead of Hot Rod Magazine starting with the second issue back in February of 1948? Medley stayed at the old Petersen Publishing until retirement in 1985 and always seemed to be in the center of the action. He created the iconic Stroker McGurk character for Hot Rod’s third issue, was listed as the Cartoon and Humor Editor and contributed many of the best-remembered early photo features. Tom became Hot Rod’s ad manager with the May 1955 issue and in the late-’50s he was deeply involved with a group of racecar builders and hot rodders that created the go-kart movement. After spending a little more than a decade as ad manager at HRM, Medley was named the publisher at Rod & Custom in December of 1965. At the time, R&C covered everything from drag racing and go-karts to model cars, mini-bikes, street rods and indoor car shows.

Medley’s vision for Rod & Custom was to take it “strictly street”. The focus shifted to street driven early-model hot rods. This flew in the face of the common wisdom of the time that proclaimed factory muscle cars and increasingly professional drag racing were where it was at in the hot rod world. A few years later a brainstorming session in Medley’s office with Tex Smith led to the idea of a national long-distance rod run and the very first Street Rod Nationals held in Peoria, Illinois, in the summer of 1970. It is hard to make a case against the idea that these two things went a long way to propel us towards the sport, hobby and industry that we have today.

Tome Medley 1940 Ford Deluxe

After Rod & Custom’s on-again off-again status in the early-’70s, Tom spent time at Petersen working on one-shots including the R&C quarterlies and other projects until 1985. In retirement he kept more than busy with everything from his beloved ’40 Ford coupe to fishing, model airplanes, vintage go-kart racing and even drawing the occasional Stroker cartoon.

To say that Tom Medley led a full life is indeed an understatement.  He played basketball on a level that afforded a college scholarship, but turned it down to journey to Southern California to attend Fullerton Junior College. While still in Oregon after graduating high school he was on an AAU team that played against, amongst others, the Harlem Globetrotters. After the onset of WWII Medley was drafted into the Army and was shipped to Europe in time for the Battle of the Bulge. Stateside after the War, he attended the prestigious Art Center College for a time and worked on hot rod related jazz records with musicians that included ScatMan Crothers.

Tom Medley Rodder's Journal Issue #58—Tom was thrilled to get the '40 coupe back on the road after a garage fire in 2011. Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, California handled the monumental task.

Tom was thrilled to get the ’40 coupe back on the road after a garage fire in 2011. Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, California handled the monumental task.

The first time I met Tom Medley, however, had nothing to do with any of these fortuitous events. Sometime in the late-’70s I was assigned to shoot a feature on a 1911 Electric car, which had been turned into an indoor car show “feature car” by Bob Larivee, if memory serves correctly. The car was in Anaheim, California, at Jeff Scozzaro’s old paint shop. I was the new cub reporter at Street Rodder and Tom Medley showed up to shoot the same car at the same time for one of the Petersen magazines. I was more than a little bit in awe of Medley and was quickly impressed. He treated me as a peer with warmth and a friendly manner in spite of our differences in age and more importantly experience. I can’t claim to have known him well, but valued the time I did spend with him over the years and felt honored to have had him attend photo shoots that we did of his ’40 coupe in TRJ #7 and again after its rebirth just last year for TRJ #58. – Steve Coonan

My Buddy Tom

They told me yesterday that Tom Medley had died. The only reason that came as a shock was that I was at his house just a couple of weeks ago, and he was very alive then, as usual. Sure he was slowing down a bit. He was 93 years old. But he started telling me a story as soon as I saw him, and he was on his fourth or fifth by the time I left. And you haven’t heard a story until you’ve heard one told by Tom Medley–hand gestures, sounds effects, and all. In fact his son, Gary, was there attempting to box up Tom’s belongings to move to a new house up near the Columbia river, where the salmon run, in his native Oregon. Gary looked daunted. “I think my dad drew something every day of his life…and saved all of it!” he said, wiping his brow. Not only that, but there were rows and rows of file cabinets full of photos, clippings, cartoons, pit passes, annuals, albums, you name it…but no filing system. I can only imagine. As many times as I’ve been there, I’ve only seen a fraction of this.

Tom Medley House

I’ve been “falling by” the little house on Verdugo Ave. in Burbank at least 30 years, since I signed on at Hot Rod and moved to nearby Glendale. Tom and Rosemary bought it in ’56 and raised Gary there. I think I first came by when Tom started building his Forty coupe in the garage out back. I remember taking his picture proudly holding the DeLuxe dash he had just sprayed and rubbed out with the ruby maroon nitro lacquer Barris had mixed for him years before. I stopped by often, taking progress photos and listening to all sorts of stories. I’ve also written about Medley many times. See TRJ #7 and #58 for the best versions of “The Stroker Story,” centered on the birth and rebirth of his ’40.

But the problem with trying to tell Tom’s story, as related to hot rods or Hot Rod Magazine, was trying to keep him on topic. Within minutes he’d be talking about basketball (he first came to SoCal to play for USC), fighting in the Battle of the Bulge (he was awarded a bronze star), flying free-flight model airplanes (he was a national champ), racing all manner of Go-Karts, dancing jitterbug and hanging with big-time jazz musicians in the ’40s, fishing trips to Alaska, building an Okrasa VW-powered bathtub Porsche, learning how to stitch auto upholstery…I’m just getting started.

Tom Medley Stroker McGurk

I’d say “You get the point,” but you really don’t unless you were one of Tom’s friends, and heard these animated, whiz-bang stories first-hand, with the inflection only Tom could give them. Fortunately he had several such friends, who have been quite loyal over the decades. Plenty of names you would recognize. I’m very fortunate to consider myself one.

I don’t mourn Tom’s passing. I’ll miss him, sure, big time. But I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who packed as much living into 93 years, doing so many significant things, as Tom Medley. And even though it’s not on the way to anywhere I regularly go, whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll swing by the little house on Verdugo, like I always have, and just wave. Take a rest, Tom. You’ve earned it. – Pat Ganahl

Tom Medley Camera

Hot Rod Hero

The news of Tom Medley’s passing leaves a permanent empty parking spot in my hot rod world. With a single phone call in 1972 Tom changed my whole world, with a chance to do a short column in R&C about traveling to the Street Rod Nationals. In a time when virtually every automotive magazine was engaged in the muscle car wars, Tom Medley carried the torch of traditional hot rodding on the pages of Rod & Custom. I did all of my early writing for him and still have B&W 2-1/4 contact sheets (from my twin lens Minolta Autocord) that Tom marked up to improve my photography, it’s a debt I could never repay. Every traditional hot rodder can thank Tom for starting the Street Rod Nationals and sharing stories of cross-country jaunts in hot rods. Long before flat brimmed ball caps, hot rodders proudly donned their Stroker caps at hot rod events. Sadly the last true pioneers of hot rodding are dwindling, but for me personally there was no greater hot rod hero than Tom Medley. – Gerry Burger