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RAGS TO RICHES ADAM, THE CAR WASH KID

Like many 11-year-olds, Adam Pulka had his eye on a few things he liked but didn't have the cash to buy.

But America is the land of opportunity, so Adam set off to capitalize on that fact.

In order to buy a TV he wanted last year, "I washed my grandma's car and other cars in my family," Adam said.

And so began Adam's flourishing enterprise, a car detailing business that allowed him to not only purchase a television for his bedroom, but also an Atlanta Braves baseball hat and professional jersey ("not one of the cheap ones, but the kind the players wear"), which cost around $100.

He earned that money in only a few weeks. (Last summer, he didn't get the idea until September, which is kind of late in the car detailing season.)

Show me a lawn cutter or baby sitter who rakes in that kind of dough.

This summer, 12-year-old Adam started early, placing a classified ad in NeXt announcing his car cleaning services. With a base of five steady customers and a few relatives, he's already set a goal to purchase a VCR and a good camera with this year's earnings.

From the moment a customer pulls into the Pulkas' Williamsville driveway, Adam is all business. A hose, a bucket full of suds and bottles of various cleansers have been assembled in advance, ready to go. Time is money, and Adam doesn't waste either.

He starts by removing the car mats, hosing them off and leaving them in the sun to dry. He spritzes the wheels with a cleanser, squirts the tires with a foam, and soaps up the car with one of those long-handled devices you can order from television. After a final rinse, Adam waxes and buffs the car.

Then he starts on the interior. He vacuums the floors and seats with an industrial-strength vacuum and polishes the dashboard with Armor All. For $20 ($10 each for the interior and exterior, vans slightly more), customers get a spotless car and the pleasure of sitting on the Pulkas' porch swing for an hour.

Adam politely asks the car owner to inspect his work before he verbally presents the bill. No, he doesn't take credit cards, but he will accept a tip.

So what's a 12-year-old doing spending his summer vacation working? Isn't there plenty of time for that when you get old?

Sure, but things these days aren't cheap (though some of Adam's earnings are directed into a savings account). And there is also a certain satisfaction in running your own business.

In fact, Adam has to take on a partner. The owner of a collision shop heard about his work and has asked Adam if he'd be interested in cleaning his cars. Though Adam and the shop owner are still in the discussion stages of their venture, Adam has his friend Mike Bucelli ready to go on the payroll.

For the remainder of this year's baseball season, Adam has to schedule cleaning cars around his practice and games. The first baseman and occasional pitcher has played baseball since he was 5, and he also collects baseball cards and watches ESPN almost every day to catch up on the major league scores.

Adam is very busy, but he's not suffering from a lack of fun -- this is one kid who not only works hard but also plays hard.

Adam makes plenty of time for one of his favorite summer hobbies -- fishing. Riding his bike to a stream five minutes from his house, Adam (a "fishing addict," he's called) and his friends fish for bass at every possible opportunity. When they're not swimming in a friend's pool. Or starring in movies made with a friend's camcorder.

The seventh-grader at High Middle School, whose favorite subject is science, also manages to fit in playing "Doom" on his computer and e-mailing friends in Indiana and Michigan.

Adam got interested in cars by watching his father, who owns a 1973 MGB convertible. Adam started helping his dad clean the family cars.

"When I was little, I liked to use the hose and spray the car," Adam says.

"I like doing the detailing," he adds of his current work. Even though his fee would be the same, "I would like to work on a Corvette or a Porsche."

Adam has influenced his younger brother, Andrew, 10, to join the work world. Andrew does yard work for $3.50 an hour, but enjoys pet-sitting more. For $5 a week, he'll feed, take care of and clean cages and tanks for pets ranging from guinea pigs to goldfish.

An entrepreneur, first baseman, angler, electronics whiz, inspiration to his younger brother -- what else can Adam Pulka fit on his plate?

A girlfriend? Sorry, but Adam's far too busy for that right now.

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