KEARNEY — Blake Adams couldn’t read. As a youth he was dyslexic and had an attention disorder.
Without his Ritalin, he was a regular in the principal’s office. Add to that, his family was poor and moved a lot, and his parents were divorced.
“I didn’t want to go to school. I couldn’t sit still. I was always in trouble,” said Adams, 37, recalling a turning point in his young life.
It was when the Ravenna school librarian, Pat Rasmussen, slipped Adams a copy of Hot Rod Magazine.
The exciting cover photos spoke to him.
Excruciating as it was — word after word and sentence after sentence — Adams read from front to back. And when the next month’s edition arrived at the school library, he dove in again.
As he devoured each page, it fanned a passion for cars that changed his life.
“By my senior year I tested out of resource,” Adams said.
Today, Adams operates Goodfellows Body Shops in Ravenna and Kearney. A few months ago, he opened The Muscle Car Factory at 115 S. Railroad St. The business customizes, builds and restores collector cars, along with ground shaking, high-performance muscle cars built for drag racing in the 1960s and early ’70s.
So far, the biggest ticket at The Muscle Car Factory has been $200,000, Adams said. “Restoring that car took longer because it had a lot of parts missing.”
The clientele for The Muscle Car Factory comes from across Nebraska and neighboring states. Some of the people who put their cars in Adams’ care are well known. The common thread, he said, is their desire to relive younger days.
Making that connection often starts with a special car.
Last week Steve Sheen of Kearney checked the progress on his time machine, a 1959 Chevrolet Impala with “cat eye” brake lights in the rear.
Sheen told how he sold a different ’59 Impala on the eve of his wedding 52 years ago. He bought a ’64 Rambler Ambassador and had enough left over for his honeymoon.
With the blue Impala coming together at The Muscle Car Factory, Sheen is ready for his big ride back in time. In July he intends to take his sweetheart of 52 years, wife Joan, for a ride during Cruise Nite.
“She’s not excited about cars, but I put air conditioning in it for her,” Sheen said. He brought his car to Adams because he heard about the good work he does.
Adams was 13 when he got his first car.
“I had a 1971 Chevelle. We were pretty poor and my parents were divorced,” he said, but reading Hot Rod Magazine had planted a seed. Adams said he was ready to attack his first project. To begin, he cleaned out a small garage near his house. His grandfather, Loren Lewis, wired the garage for electricity.
“He taught me a work ethic and he helped me get it running, even though he was a Ford guy,” Adams said.
Adams bought a 4-inch palm sander, and as he reeled in money from his paper route, odd jobs and trading in car parts, he bought sandpaper and tools.
Section by section, Adams sanded the Chevelle’s body down to bare metal. He then sprayed on primer from an aerosol can and sanded another section.
He learned that nothing comes easily or without hard work.
Adams finished high school, and went to work for other shop operators in the Kearney area. By age 24 he was married with two children and needed more money. He took a chance and struck out on his own.
“I started my business with less than $500 to my name. It was pretty scary,” he said. “Fear of failure definitely was a motivator, but I had the passion for cars.”
Driven by his passion, Adams steadily worked his way into larger and larger operations. Four years ago he bought a Quonset building in Ravenna for his Goodfellows Paint & Body. Next came a large garage on South Railroad Street near Old Town Kearney.
Adams said he picked the name “Goodfellows” because it reminds him of his grandmother, who said “fellas” a lot, and because “a good fellow is like a good friend. That’s what I try to be.”
When Adams was 13 and sanding away on his ’71 Chevelle, Ravenna’s body and fender man told him it isn’t necessary to repaint entire cars to earn a living. Those are big ticket jobs, but you can make a living doing smaller jobs, like rust or deer strike repairs, he told Adams.
Goodfellows Paint & Body and The Muscle Car Factory reflect that advice.
Some of the jobs are smaller, while others are from-the-ground-up restorations like Sheen’s ’59 Impala or one of Adams’ three Chevrolet Chevelles.
At age 13, Adams never was able to afford a real paint job on his first car, but today, at age 37, with five kids and a successful business, he’s able to feed his passion for cars.
He owns three 1970 Chevelles, a 1969 El Camino, a 1970 Camaro, a 1972 GMC pickup and his daily driver, a 2019 GMC Duramax diesel pickup.
Coming together at The Muscle Car Factory is a vintage hot rod pickup with components from 1932 to ’37 Ford pickups.
Restoring a collectible car can take from 1,500 to 2,000 hours, he said, unless too many parts are missing. Tracking down old chrome trim or instrument panels takes lots of time.
Although school was difficult, Adams talks a lot about teachers from his past. He remembers how they looked for ways to motivate and help him. One even bribed him.
“She said if I could read a book to her aloud she would give me a Matchbox car,” he said.
Asked his advice for kids who have a hard time in school, Adams said, “We’re all not going to be doctors or lawyers. There’s nothing wrong with having a trade.”
He said he’s fortunate the librarian in Ravenna introduced him to Hot Rod Magazine. If she hadn’t done that, he might not have discovered his niche.
“I don’t think you can be successful until you find your niche, your passion,” he said. “Find your niche and then work hard. It’s the key to success.”