Blake Nelson couldn’t wait for the bell to ring on those sunny days when Paul “Papa” Gaetz was scheduled to come pick him up after school at Shaw Road Elementary.
Gaetz would pull up in his shining red 1962 Chevy Corvette convertible and the two would go out for ice cream or just a cruise around Puyallup.
“It wasn’t like having a grandpa, it was like another best friend,” said Nelson, now a 17-year-old who just finished his junior year at Puyallup High.
The pristine, 327-powered, 4-speed Corvette was the centerpiece of the pair’s relationship from the very beginning. As soon as Blake was born, Gaetz told the youngster the Corvette would one day be his.
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“I was in shock at first,” Mark Nelson, Blake’s father and Gaetz’s son-in-law, recalled of the promise at birth.
Gaetz died of brain cancer in 2009, six days before Blake’s 10th birthday. The Corvette stayed parked at Gaetz’s house until about six years ago, when Blake’s grandmother, Yvonne, decided to move and the Nelsons took possession of the car.
While the Corvette sat covered in the family garage, Blake occupied his time playing club baseball and soccer as he progressed into his teenage years. But now that the teenager recently acquired his driver’s license (he took the test in his grandmother’s Kia Soul) and made the decision to stop playing baseball and focus on soccer, the classic ride has worked its way back into the picture.
Despite the fact no other student at Puyallup High can likely lay claim to a car valued at around $45K, Blake hasn’t let the peer pressure that could come with owning a classic American ride at such a young age get to him.
“So many people ask me about it,” he said. “I let it lay low. I don’t flaunt it.”
Not that many could blame him if he wanted to take it out and show it off every once in a while on sunny days — to keep everything running right, of course.
My parents told me I wouldn’t be driving it until I was 40.
“My parents told me I wouldn’t be driving it until I was 40,” Blake said with a laugh.
Everyone is working toward a happy medium to that strict edict, however, Mark said. There’s talk of Blake taking the car to his senior prom next year. But that means the teenager is still going to have to learn how to drive a manual-transmission car.
“The (big steering) wheel gives you a workout,” Mark said.
And the heavy clutch pedal paired with a 300-horsepower V8 isn’t an ideal situation for young driver learning to master the art of shifting.
But all of that hasn’t lessened the emotional impact the car still has on Blake. He feels a connection to his grandfather when he sits in the driver’s seat —like he’s there with him. Besides their trips around town, Gaetz also took Blake to many different car shows around the area. The teen wants to keep everything pretty much the same as it was when Gaetz owned the car.
“That’s how Papa would have wanted it,” Blake said.
Gaetz owned the car for about 20 years before he died, said longtime friend Bill Schuldt. Blake wants to keep the Vette in the family and pass it down to his children.
It has too much of a sentimental value to part ways with it.
“It has too much of a sentimental value to part ways with it,” Blake said.
That brings a smile to Schuldt’s face.
“It’s pretty cool that (the Corvette) is still here,” he said.
The Corvette is just one of the many cars that will be on display Saturday in downtown Puyallup as part of the Bumpy’s 6th Annual Classic Car Show. Schuldt and Bumpy’s owner Brian Gelston started the show six years ago to honor Gaetz and his love for cars while also raising money for the American Cancer Society.
Bumpy’s 6th Annual Classic Car Show
When: 9 a.m. Saturday (July 23)
Where: Downtown Puyallup; 116 E. Main, parking lot between E. Main and E. Meeker, next to Bumpy’s
Details: Registration will only be accepted on the day of the show. Fee is $20, and entries must be registered by 10 a.m. to be judged. Awards will be handed out at 3 p.m. and include Top 25 Best of Show plus additional awards. All proceeds of the show benefit the American Cancer Society. For more information, call Bill Schuldt at 253-435-5856 or Brian Gelston at 253-840-3618.