Sunday 11 September 2016

A Step Back in Time- Hayes Engineering; Part 1

Catch-up, late March 2016

Our next destination was not too far past the Idaburn Dam; the historic Hayes Engineering Works & Homestead, a family business dating from 1895, and one that has more significance than most to us.

It was closed for winter during our last visit back in July, 2015. The complex is managed by Heritage New Zealand and while we were there back then the manager arrived and offered to show us around, we declined and said we'd be back in the summer. So here we were and so were quite a few others; the carpark was busy with locals and tourists vehicles including a few campervans. The Hayes carpark is also a NZMCA CAP- an overnight fee includes entrance to the heritage site. There are also 'Operating Days' when some of the machinery is switched on, these are held one day a month over summer with guided tours. The rest of the time it's a self-guided tour. 

There were quite a number of cyclists that were riding this part of the Otago Rail Trail and a small group on an outing having a set lunch beside 'Hannahs Cafe'.  The cafe building is a re-creation of the original sun-dried brick cottage (1890) in which Ernest & Hannah Hayes first lived with their nine children.

We also ordered lunch and although there was a short delay, it was worth the wait. It was also lovely to sit outside watching the world go by and soaking up the warm sun.

Ernest Hayes Engineering holds a prominent position  in New Zealand’s agriculture history as a producer of a large range of innovative agricultural tools and equipment that were sold nation and world wide.

Our first stop was at the Company Office (1930) where products were displayed and sold. 

Many of those products and the history behind them are now on display inside. Ernest Hayes inventions include fence wire strainers, the Hayes Permanent Wire Strainer (2nd photo on the left) was once, and no doubt still is, a competitor of the Wirelok, a wire strainer that David developed and manufactured during the 1980-90s. 

David Evans Wirelok Ltd went on to sell over 1 million units before we sold the business. The Wirelok is still manufactured and sold in NZ and exported overseas. We quite often come across Wireloks holding fences together on our travels, although I bet we won't find any on fences around here.

Our next stop is the Hayes Factory (1902-14) and wow, what a thoroughly interesting building. 

This is a typical nineteenth century machine shop, complete with dirt floors, the smell of grease and looking like the workers had just stepped out for a smoko break.

Power to the 'machine shop' was transferred from a central drive shaft via a series of belts and pulleys to individual machines that included drills, lathes, punch & shear machines and grinders.  First powered by wind, then water and finally today, just a 3HP electric motor. 

You might not be able to see it in this photo but there's something unusual about the clock on the far wall. The number 7 must have gone missing at some stage and has been replaced with an upside down number 2.

Up to eight men worked in the machine shop and at the start of each day they would stand by their machines waiting for the signal to start work. There's a bell cord beside the forge here (I couldn't find it) and when it was rung it signalled 'start work' everyone.

Ernest was a trained millwright and engineer, he was skilled at the lathe, the anvil and the carpenter's bench. He was also an astute business man.

Battery Charging Stand- the sign reads; Power comes through resistors which break down the current from 230 volts. It is then controlled by switchers at the bottom. 

We climb through a small backdoor in the building to see the base of what was one of the largest windmills in New Zealand (1910). It stood 12m (40ft) tall, with a 6.7m (20ft) span and was used to power the factory which actually wasn't such a good idea as there was hardly any wind in Central Otago. In 1927 a water-driven Pelton Wheel was installed and fed from a reservoir at the top of the hill behind.

We head back through the door into the workshop and step through to the newest part of the old factory (1914). 

Sun dried brick moulds sit on a workbench. Earth, tussock and cow dung were mixed and packed into the moulds and then removed to bake in the blistering heat of a 'Central' summer.

The surrounding shelves contain dozens of boxes and other receptacles holding thousands (3500 plus) wooden patterns (moulds) from which steel parts were cast from. 

Another bench is covered in Hayes stencils with brand names and patent numbers.

There was so much to see inside the workshop, it was hard to take it all in. If you're intending to visit allow a good amount of time to explore the many different work rooms, benches and shelves; it's a fascinating look into our pioneering history and a good example of Kiwi's well known 'No. 8 Wire' tradition & philosophy. 

The steel rack with garage behind. There's no access to the garage but I wonder what machinery, or even farm vehicles are in there.

Nearby are the stables, loft and men's quarters. The Hayes also ran a 150 acre (60ha) farm which required bullocks and manpower.

On a fence separating the factory from the house is the original Hayes wire tensioner and strainers. The 1924 Hayes Smooth Grip Wire Strainer model is still being made, unchanged, today. 

Beside the strainers is the first model of windmill to be sold by Hayes Engineering. It was purchased by W. Becker (that familiar name from the cemetery, in the previous blog post) and has now been returned to the Hayes site. Hayes sold more than 400 windmills between the 1920s and 1950s.

To be continued.....Part 2- The 'Big House', the Hayes Homestead


  1. Thats some good information Shellie.I had heard there was an E Hayes Engineering Works & Homestead, but never really knew where or much more than that. Thanks for shedding some light on the topic :) Have marked it in our bible for a summer time trip away.

    1. Thanks for commenting Mrs S, and I'm pleased you've added it to your trip itinerary. Check their website and see if you can manage to time your visit with an 'operating day' which are held one Sunday a month over summer. Then you'll see some of the machinery working and have a guided tour.....mind you you've just had the guided tour! ;) Enjoy Part 2. Best regards, Shellie

  2. Hi Shellie, You've written a great informative blog about the Hayes Engineering Works with lots of interesting photos - well done. My husband Stan is a grandson of Ernest and Hannah and we live in Northland. We are heading down south again in the new year. We will look forward to your blog about the Homestead. Thankyou

    1. On wow! Thanks so much for commenting and your kind words, much appreciated. It really is lovely to hear from people with a connection to a place, especially such a special place like this. I hope I've done it justice. Enjoy the homestead blog. And enjoy your trip south too, we're just about to head off there again. Do say hello if you see us on the road. Best regards Shellie

  3. Have used those strainers quite a bit...reckon we had one of the original model strainers......real blokes sheds and buildings...are you sure you weren't a bloke in a previous life?
    I enjoyed

    1. Haha Jimu, you might be right there, although I was a tomboy and a farm girl, also being the oldest I helped Dad out on the farm quite a bit so some of it obviously rubbed off. I also sold my horse to get a motorbike if that some sort of clue too.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie