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Originally known as
Gibbens Panel Beating,
and later Dey s, the big
building on the corner
of Tainui Street and
Convent Lane was a
panelbeating hub long before E V Arthur
and Son converted it into a furniture store,
later Smiths City and now Y Furniture.
Eric Dey took over the panel shop in the
1960s, making a few changes along the way.
Over the years it was the stepping stone
into the trade for dozens of apprentice
panelbeaters and painters.
Billy Cook was one apprentice who did his
time in the panel shop next to Frank Bell s
"Owen Gibbens originally had the panel
shop where I started my apprenticeship,
which was around 1965. Eric Dey bought
him out with the help of Europa.
" ey changed the petrol pumps from
Mobil to Europa, ripped all the old pumps
out on the forecourt and replaced them,"
"Eric s father, Ian Dey, served petrol and
was in the office area at the front section of
the building. He also used to teach driving,
he had a learn to drive business as well. Gary
McLennan worked on the service station
side of things as well, and eventually was
Billy says it was a busy place and he worked
with a good crew during his time, holding a
gas torch with a hammer and dollie in hand.
"I worked with a lot of good people
and some hard cases. Graeme Rowe
was the foreman when I first started my
apprenticeship, then Tom Milne took over.
ere was a list of workers including Kevin
Kavanagh, Dave McCain, Barry Wick,
Graeme Sara, John Moore, Lenny Bell, Ian
Buchanan, Pat Coll, Norm Duggan was
the mechanic when I started and Reggie
Bryant was the car painter. at s when Pat
Knowles started working there, too. Gerry
Glen and Brendan Anisy started, along with
Brownie Tahapeehi, and Robbie Brown
and Phil (Beagle) Winchester served their
apprenticeships there, too.
"Brownie was a character and when a nun
would walk past from the nearby convent
he would yell out, How are you sister? and
quickly bob down behind a car, leaving Anno
(Brendan Anisy) standing in full view --- the
nun would walk in and confront him."
e panel shop was on a productive corner
block back then, with the milk bar alongside,
McGlashan s garage at the back, and agents
for Wolesley cars.
"Frank Bell s was next door and was handy
as we would always go and get a milkshake
there. Frank would lean over the counter and
pick me up by my overalls," Billy chuckled.
"Panelbeating back then was done using
the gas plant with the oxygen and acetylene,
and lead on the panels. ere were no mig
welders or bog (plastic filler) back then. We
didn t have the gear panel shops have today.
We used a damage dozer for straightening
chassis --- we d slide it under a vehicle, attach
chains and then pump the hydraulics. It did
the trick, though."
When the milk bar shut, Eric Dey bought
the old two-storey building on the corner
and eventually pulled it down.
"Dey s bought Frank s and had a big
auction, selling a lot of the gear inside. We
had to clean up everything prior to the
auction. I just wish I had thought about it
and bought the old jukebox --- I ve always
regretted that. After that we went across the
road to Russell Glen s milk bar on the other
corner for milkshakes," Billy says.
John Moore started working for Eric Dey
in 1965, but recalls he had a choice of jobs
upon leaving school.
"You could get an apprenticeship for
anything back then but I had decided to go
and try panelbeating. I was 15 years old at
the time, straight out of school. I ended up
working at Tainui Street for nine years, I
enjoyed working there but it was hard work
all the same."
e workshop had a number of sections
but most of the premises involved panel
"Down the back was where the radiators
would be repaired or re-cored, there were a
couple of water tanks there, at the front was
the petrol pumps and service area, the wheel
alignment was up the front, and basically the
rest was for panelbeating."
John says there was plenty of overtime
available, which was good for his
apprenticeship when it came to serving his
time, finishing his apprenticeship in just four
and a half years.
"When Eric (Dey) bought Frank Bell s
Milk Bar, Billy Cook and I spent weeks
stripping out the inside of the place, top
and bottom storeys. Eric also bought
McGlashan s garage and most of the workers
from there came across and worked for Dey s
--- Brian Jones, Brian Hoy, Max Anderson,
Francie Becker all ended up working there.
It was a good place to work, busy times but a
lot of fun.
" e workshop or garage would open out
to the side on the lane which led up to the
nuns. We used that section of the lane to
park our cars and vehicles waiting to be
"Making acetylene bombs out of large
cardboard boxes and rope dipped in petrol
for a fuse, when Eric was out, was always a
good lark. ey used to make a hell of a bang
and the whole building would shudder and
the dust would fly down from the rafters,"
"We used to have a good session at the
Duke (of Edinburgh Hotel). Ron Baxendale
had the pub at the time and whenever any of
the boys came out of their time they would
shout a keg. at was common practice."
Graeme Sara started work in the
panelbeating workshop in 1961, when it was
owned by Owen Gibbens, and carried on
working for Eric Dey after the change of
ownership in 1965.
"Four of us all started together --- Pat
Knowles, Dave McCain, Kevin Kavanagh
and myself, all as panelbeaters. Owen
Gibbens had eight or 10 panelbeaters when
I started and always took young people on as
apprentices. ere was a job advertised in the
paper in October and I remember starting
work there on January 23."
Initially, his work involved pulling cars to
bits and putting them back together again,
but cleaning the workshop was also a major
part of his early employment.
" e workshop was split up into three areas
and my job was to keep one of the areas
clean. e vehicles I learned my trade on
were 100E Prefects, Mk 1 Zephyrs, Cortinas
and a lot of the older vehicles that needed
"Les Cogger mainly taught me but
basically all the staff at the time would teach
me. Owen (Gibbens) used to do a lot of
coach building in the earlier days but when
Eric (Dey) took over he did away with the
coach building side of things. We used to
get Bedford cabs and chassis for the P and T
and we would build a body for them."
When Graeme turned 18 he got his HT
licence and then spent many hours on the
road driving the salvage truck, retrieving
" e salvage truck we had was an old
double-cab Dodge, and it did the trick.
I would go out to the smashes and
breakdowns, picking up the smashed vehicles
that were all over the place and bringing
them back to the workshop."
Gerry Glen worked at Dey s in 1968,
having served his time as a mechanic at
Schaef s garage, and took up a specialised
position at the Tainui Street workshop.
"I worked on the new wheel alignment
machine that they had recently installed. I
had been a mechanic at Schaef s and had
been doing the wheel alignment there. Dey s
put a wheel alignment machine into the
workshop, just as you came in the door, over
an existing pit. I was the wheel alignment
specialist in town, basically the only one
doing it in those days," Gerry says.
Wheel alignment and car suspensions were
different back then.
"Vehicles today are different. We worked
on the old suspensions with the wishbone set
up, shims, exocentric nut for adjustment, toe
in and toe out, caster and camber. e wheel
alignment machine had a screen which
had a cross on it, you would see where the
cross was going and add shims and tighten
"A lot of my work was doing the wheel
alignment on the vehicles that had been
repaired after smashes, that sort of thing, but
I also did the general public s cars as well.
We would even get vehicles coming down
from Westport for wheel alignments.
"We had a lot of fun there, they were a
good bunch of guys to work with. When I
was there Donny Macbeth, Graeme Sara,
Billy Cook, Ian (Buck) Buchanan, Pat
Knowles was our painter and we would go
across to the Duke on a Friday night and
have a few beers --- quite a few, actually."
Ross Dey says the panelbeating business
in Tainui Street eventually relocated
to purpose-built premises across from
Victoria Park, in premises now occupied
by Coastwood Furniture. Eric Dey built
the large premises in the 1970s, and when
the panelbeating wound up he sold it to
E V Arthur took over the old shop in
"I have a lot of memories as a young fellow
down at the old panel shop," Ross says.
"We were always down there on the
weekends. I remember Glen (brother),
my mother and I went across with dad
with a load of iron. ere was no place in
Greymouth where the iron could be curved
so we had to take it across to Christchurch.
We all had to get out and walk over the
zig-zag on the Arthur s Pass gravel road
because the load was too heavy. e iron was
to modify the front of the panel shop --- it
covered the top floor offices."
Hey Lounge suites and beds occupy the
space today that 40 years ago was
home to the hammering, banging
and grinding of Dey s Panel Shop.
PAUL McBRIDE reports.
PICTURE: Ross Dey
Dey s Panelbeating in the mid-1960s, with a corner of the convent at right.
PICTURE: West Coast Photo News
Owen Gibben s Panelbeating with the double cab Dodge tow truck outside in 1963. Frank Bell s Milk Bar is at left. It is now Y Furniture.
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