Cal Whitfield was on a wrench, tugging, when he heard a sound like metal tearing. He saw no bolts shear, no steel housing rip apart.
Instead, he felt an intense pain.
It was the sound of his shoulder blowing out.
Whitfield, who once worked on airplanes as a Marine Corps aviation mechanic, is the new owner of Hutchins Auto Repair, a family owned shop that has been part of the greater Coeur d’Alene Place, Sunshine Meadows, Hawks Nest and Landings neighborhoods since 1988 — long before the plans for the suburban housing developments reached fruition.
“He started out here when this was surrounded by farm fields,” Whitfield said.
As the neighborhoods one at a time grew around the home and shop where the Hutchinses raised five children, former owner Wally Hutchins carried on building on an already stellar reputation for his service.
He retired in December, but not before helping Whitfield make the transition from being a master mechanic with 25 years of experience, to business owner.
Owning their own shop was something Whitfield and his wife, Brandy, have been planning on for years.
There was a silver lining in Whitfield’s shoulder injury, subsequent surgery and physical therapy.
“We had been looking for a while, for a shop,” Whitfield said.
Months of physical therapy and the time to think was the air wrench that Whitfield needed to hammer the bolts of his future into place.
The couple wrote a business plan, presented it to a lender and the small business administration, and got the necessary financial backing.
At the same time, Wally Hutchins, who had been a mechanic in the area for half a century, advertised his shop for sale.
Whitfield knew Wally from his own experience as a mechanic, and so did Brandy. She had worked as a Napa representative and employee for almost 20 years.
“We’re very entrenched in this industry in this area,” Whitfield said.
They approached Hutchins, purchased the business and Whitfield learned the ropes under the former owner before taking over Jan. 2 at the shop on the 7600 block of North Atlas Road.
The Whitfields and their three employees have well over 100 years of experience between them, so when it comes to repairing carburetors or keeping powertrains ticking, their know-how kicks in.
“We do pretty much everything,” Whitfield said. “We’re experienced enough here to have the ability to work on carbureted vehicles, to vehicles under warranty.”
When he took over the business, he also started to work on earning the trust of Hutchins’ clients, something Whitfield understands is paramount.
“He has worked on cars in the area since the 1960s,” Whitfield said.
Some of the cars from old clients hearken back to the American muscle car era. Others are relatively fresh off the lot.
That’s where Whitfield’s and his employees’ computer diagnostic experience comes in.
“The new cars have upwards of 40 computers that all talk to each other,” he said.
And these days cars are all fuel injected.
Whitfield likes the idea that his shop caters not only to clients passed down from the former owner, but that it is the only shop in the neighborhood.
When the new sign goes up along Atlas Road, he said, it will read Hutchins Neighborhood Auto.
And the focus will be on neighborhood.
“Without exception, your customer’s best interest is your best interest. They are one and the same,” Whitfield said. “That’s how we take care of business.”