By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — The husband-and-wife musical team of “Captain” Stanley Collinson and Daisy Nell are still performing and recording their songs.
But they have now handed over the keys to the historic Gaybrook Garage on Western Avenue to one of their experienced technicians, Michael Crowley.
The landmark change drew Collinson to recall his start in the garage business, opening his first shop and pump station in 1970 in Manchester.
He recalled his first customer at the Depot Esso Station, his business partner’s father, and just after the gas tank was filled, the car came to a screeching halt, Collilnson said.
“Somehow, water had gotten in the tank,” he said.
Collinson and his partner later discovered the car had been left unattended for so long, water built up inside the tank without anyone knowing.
Collinson said he still laughs at the memory of that first customer today.
“I basically learned the business by the seat of my pants,” he said.
After his business expanded in Manchester, he needed something bigger than a two-bay garage and purchased the Gaybrook in 1978.
The two had tried running both locations for awhile, but eventually made their permanent location in Essex, bringing some clients with them.
In retrospect, he said, moving into a business in January of 1978 was not the ideal time. The infamous Blizzard of ‘78 that struck the next month, and 35 yers ago this week, hit Essex hard as well, and Collinson did not see any business for about 10 days as Western Avenue was completely blocked off by the snow, he said. Yet he had faith.
”A business that survived the Crash of ‘29 could survive the Blizzard of ‘78, and it did,” Collinson said.
The first Gaybrook Garage, meanwhile, was built in 1929, and the garage was owned and operated by two business partners for decades. After the two had gone their separate ways, a brick three-bay garage was built in the 1950s, and that’s come to be known as the Gaybrook Garage of today.
The garage became the place to be in Essex and the duo have carried on the rich history.
Part of the reason for the shop’s success throughout the years is its history, since the shop is out of the way from downtown Essex, Collinson said. The business was once near the popular trolley railways in Essex, which would transport Bostonians to parks near Centennial Grove Road, a popular hot-spot for concerts and other activities before baseball fields were there, Collinson said.
The shop still utilizes and celebrates history. A cash register from 1907 is still in use; Collinson said he got it from an old liquor company in Manchester.
The garage existed at a time where only one or two types of cars were in need of being serviced, mostly the Ford Model A, which was first produced in 1927.
”There weren’t that many car shops back then, it was the dawn of automotive repair,” Collinson said.
When the two were operating the garage decades later, their scope of work became much more open.
”If someone came in with a John Deere tractor that needed fixing, we learned how to fix it,” Collinson joked.
Collinson said he and Daisy Nell have been debating the idea of bowing out of the garage business for some time. Nobody in their family wanted to take over the business, but the two decided to sell once they could find the right buyer.
That new owner, Michael Crowley, has been working at the Gaybrook for about three years as a technician and manager, but owned and operated his own shop in Beverly Farms.
Crowley grew in Beverly and has familiarized himself with Essex and the garage throughout the years. He said that, aside from a fresh coat of paint, there will be no drastic changes, though he hopes to bring in one project, the restoration of a 1920s model Chevrolet truck.
Although there is still paperwork to make the deal official, Crowley said he assumed all over Nell’s and Collinson’s responsibilities as of last Friday, Feb. 1.
Nell, who served as the bookkeeper, is also the author of several children’s books, in addition to the two continuing their roles as folk musicians, with a wide range of CDs released over the years.
Crowley said Nell and Collinson are always welcomed back anytime; Collinson added they want to give Crowley space to run the business his way.
Collinson said Crowley was the perfect choice for a new owner, leaving Gaybrook’s clients in good hands.
“I owe a great debt of gratitude to the customers who have been so loyal and stuck buy me all these years,” he said. “We worked hard to find someone who will take over and pick up and carry the torch.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.