Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

14 July 2010

Hayes Historic Engineering Works, Oturehua, Central Otago

As we drove along the valley of the Ida Burn between Oturehua and Poolburn in Autumn 2010, no doubt the hills looked much the same as they did ten years after the pastoral modifications of the first runholders. This is to our benefit for had Hayes Engineering Works been sited in, say, Dunedin or Auckland, ‘progress’ would have obliterated it by now.

Instead we are treated to a late nineteenth century colonial example of the Victorian succession to Britain’s industrial revolution. It‘s in working order, preserved because of its astute acquisition by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

A corner of the workshop in 2010

Hayes Engineering Limited was established in Central Otago in 1885 by E. Ernest Hayes, recently immigrated from Warwickshire. His first building was a shed of 7.75 square metres; therein he invented and produced tools and implements to aid self-sufficiency in a remote district. As time went by demand for his inventions came from his near neighbours, then from farther afield, and subsequently from around the world.
Among the more notable of his innovations were disc-cutter tools for cutting up pollard, a bran mixture used for poisoning the rabbits who were already a pest on the pasturelands of Central Otago. By 1897 he had built a lathe out of a gate post and chaff cutter wheel and thus was able to increase production of the disc-cutter.
Hayes went into serious engineering production which was enhanced when he built a forge in 1905 to produce his standard lifter, the famous wire strainer branded ‘Monkey’, a cart jack and wire coiler. In 1906 he invented his best known gadget, the parallel wire strainer for farm fences which was patented in 1923.

The old forge in 2010

Other Hayes inventions were water wheels, pulley blocks, cattle stops and the rachet-tightened ‘Triplex’ permanent wire strainers that have been indispensable to all farmers ever since and are still seen all over New Zealand.

Ermest Hayes retired in 1926 after which his sons carried on the business; he died in 1933, aged 82.


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By Don Donovan