Tom's schedule involved 12 days on and 2 days off each fortnight. Matches took him to small local gyms in high schools, cold and draughty armories, county fairgrounds with the lingering smell of livestock - and every weekend, back to the converted 'sports arena' in north Portland, for the Saturday night taping of "Portland Wrestling."
The thing that Zenk liked most about working in the PNW - apart from the mountains, the promoter and the neighborly community - was that no venue was more than 2 hours from the apartment in Milwaukee, Oregon, that he shared with his girlfriend and their dog 'Mad Max.
Matches were the best of three falls and could last up to an hour. To manage this, a wrestler had to have stamina, and intelligence, as well as size.
"You have to be in real good physical condition to get in the ring because you go in there for 15 to 60 minutes. There are holds and counter-holds. You've got to be thinking at the same time."
January 21, 1986
After the Gym session, Zenk returned to his apartment to relax and listen to music. Then it was time to hit the road. Most cards started around 8 pm - but Don Owen was happy so long as they arrived in time for their scheduled match. Since they were generally main-eventing, that was nearly always the last match of the night.
Medford was the farthest they traveled. PNW program-notes warned that cards were subject to change through "injury, illness, the hazards of travel or the act of God." On their trips to venues in the snow, Owen warned them to look out for 'black ice' on the mountain roads. They drove everywhere in Zenk's Buick Park Avenue with the tires studded when the weather was bad. Ed 'Moondog' Moretti, a member of the 'Clan' (with whom Zenk and Doring were feuding) sometimes rode along. The Buick had a good stereo and amp. Music was The Doors, Grassroots, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Beatles, Stones, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. They ate on the road and most nights they were home by midnight.
Not far from Zenk's apartment was the infamous Bomber Motel - rent-by-the-month apartments - and the heart of Portland's night life. Many of the wrestlers started out their tours renting there. The motel drive was U-shaped and girls showed up with beer, circling through the drive looking to party with the boys after the weekend shows.
The Pacific North West was providing Zenk with a good living, in a family based promotion, in a friendly community, in a spectacular part of the country. The only bad spot had been Billy Jack - but, by February, Billy had left the promotion as Don Owen anticipated.
Yet by March, Zenk was heading for Montreal - "the greatest mistake of my wrestling career."
The International Wrestling Alliance (IWA) based in Montreal was looking for new talent to help fend off WWF who were promoting heavily in Quebec. Rick Martel had a part share in the IWA with Gino Brito and Dino Bravo. He rang Zenk, promising $1,000 a week against the $700 he was earning in Portland - and a promise of occasional tag partnerships with Martel and Bravo.
On March 9 , 1986, in anticipation of his move to Canada, Zenk dropped the singles title to Jaggers in Findley, Washington. They stretchered him out courtesy of “Rip’s Carry Out Service.” That way, Don was leaving the door open for Zenk to return – in case Martel swerved him.
In Montreal, the bigger pay day and the tag opportunities Martel promised never eventuated - but by the time Zenk realized this, it was already too late and too expensive to go back.
His departure from Portland hadn't been acrimonious. When he gave Don his five weeks notice, Owen had offered an extra $1,000 to stay. Don accepted the inevitable with one regret - "Tom, we never got you beat!" They were disappointed and their feelings hurt - but the Owens always acted with great generosity.
It was something Zenk tried to repay in a small way later, when he returned Portland in February 1988 to support Don Owen on the night Billy Jack Haynes' opened his rival Oregon Wrestling Federation.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
SINGLE AND TAG MATCHES, FEUDS, CHAMPIONSHIP ...
DELIVERY WITHIN NORTH AMERICA