COEUR d'ALENE - Frank Barnhart has gone from being a detailer for luxury auto dealers to trying to stave off homelessness with his mobile business.
The 68-year-old Coeur d'Alene man, with his mobile auto detailing firm - called Franko's Auto Salon - is an inspiring example of perseverance with hard work, said Patty McGruder, an outreach worker for the nonprofit Heritage Health.
"He has lived homeless, but is an entrepreneur who wants to help other people," McGruder said. "I think many people give up hope when they are experiencing homelessness, but I'm really proud of Frank for not giving up hope.
"He has found ways to persevere and get a hold of people. He has taken in homeless people along the way and that helps get other people out of homelessness. He inspires me because he has done it himself."
Barnhart worked as an auto detailer for Jaguar, Porsche and Ferrari dealerships in Seattle and Las Vegas. Business magnate Bill Gates, he said, was among his customers.
But Barnhart said two divorces "that I didn't want" made him depressed and ultimately homeless.
"The divorces messed me up," he said.
Last summer Barnhart saved enough money to purchase a 1978 RV for $2,000 as a home.
However, the pipes burst during the winter, so he was forced to move the vehicle from an RV park to inside a shop, where he lived for the rest of the winter.
"It was a tough winter," he said softly while taking a break from detailing. "I don't want to go through that again."
Barnhart, a Vietnam-era veteran, said the $749 he receives per month through Social Security isn't enough to live on, so he details vehicles to supplement that income.
With his age working against him, especially with the physical labor required for auto detailing, Barnhart said he's far from 'out of the woods' of trying to get back on his feet.
A key to getting there, he believes, will be selling two auto sealant products he developed called Protect All. One product is for the interior of vehicles for leather and vinyl, the other the exterior.
"I made them by accident," he said, adding that they came together while he was detailing vehicles and using different products. "I call it my magic sauce that's inside."
He started selling the sealants at local markets two months ago and hopes some stores will begin carrying them. A 16-ounce size of the exterior sealant costs $25. The 28-ounce size of both the interior and exterior sealants cost $35.
"You put it on twice a year and you're good," he said.
Barnhart has taken initial steps to market the products, but he wants to focus locally first.
"Yeah, I could go to the sharks in Seattle, but I want to stay local," he said.
Those interested in his products can call 699-0518.
Having been in the auto detail business for 45 years and with arthritis slowing him down, Barnhart believes the products are a natural step to helping him get by and hopes sales will allow him to rent a small home or apartment before winter.
He plans to donate 5 percent of all his sales to Heritage Health's homeless program as a way of thanking the nonprofit for helping him.
"I'm trying to get back on track and I want to help out," said Barnhart.
Barnhart said that, through the trials, he has never turned to drugs and alcohol.
"Not even in the '60s," he said with a smile. "I don't even like to take medicine unless I have to."
Barnhart said "spiritual connections" and people he crosses paths with have helped him keep forging ahead.
"When people say, 'Frank, I want my car done,' that encourages me," he said. "My motto is the Ten Commandments. Don't lie, don't steal, don't mess with another man's woman ..."
Perseverance, he said, takes dedication.
"No matter how hard you get knocked down, stay the course and go out of your way to help others," he said.