Clock on the hill strikes 50 years

Alexandra’s ‘‘clock on the hill’’ had an upgrade to coloured LED lights earlier this year. Photos...
Alexandra’s ‘‘clock on the hill’’ had an upgrade to coloured LED lights earlier this year. Photos: Supplied
The Alexandra Clock on the Hill is celebrating its big 5-0 today. Central reporter Adam Burns takes a look back at the town’s landmark — and how those 50 years have ticked by. 

The idea was scoffed at in some quarters when it was first proposed.

Yet Alexandra’s "clock on the hill" is celebrating its 50th birthday today.

The 11m (36ft) diameter clock is the largest of its kind in New Zealand and one of Alexandra’s best-known features.

At noon, the clock will mark 12  for the 36,526th time since Alexandra Mayor Keith Blackmore officially started it in front of a large Alexandra crowd in December 1968.

Plans were first mooted  in June 1966,  when the concept of building a clock on the Knobbies Range above the town was proposed.

John Taylor, who was president of the Alexandra Jaycees when the clock was built, said it was a "vocal minority," mainly fronted by local media, who opposed the idea.

"It got a bit heated at the time.

"[One of the reporters] stirred it up I think."

Then mayor of Alexandra, Mr K. W. Blackmore, speaks at the starting ceremony of the Alexandra...
Then mayor of Alexandra, Mr K. W. Blackmore, speaks at the starting ceremony of the Alexandra clock (at right). Others in the official party at the ceremony in 1968 are (from left), Mrs G. Batts, Mr G. Batts, design engineer for J and AP Scott, Ltd, Mrs Blackmore, and Mr J. Taylor, president of the Alexandra Jaycees.
The Jaycees announced  in March 1967 they would be undertaking the project.

Before construction started, the Jaycees erected a mock clock for six weeks to gauge public reaction.

Based on a poll conducted of Alexandra residents aged over 18, 84% of voters favoured building the clock.

After consent was granted by Dunedin engineers J & AP Scott, the Alexandra Jaycees undertook construction in 1968.

Every Jaycee member was involved in construction across the 42-day project.

Mr Taylor said there was great relief when the structure was completed.

"There were a lot of man-hours in the clock itself and a lot of man-hours for the Jaycees to finance it."

The clock project cost  just under $3000, including foundations, steel markers, electrical connection, painting and sundries.

The mechanism has had several upgrades over the years and transitioned to LED lighting in 2006, from 150 torch bulbs. This has evolved to coloured LED lighting, after the latest upgrade  earlier this year.

Alexandra’s clock is holding its 50th birthday bash today.
Alexandra’s clock is holding its 50th birthday bash today.
Electrician and former Jaycee member Brent Taucher, of Alexandra, has helped maintain the clock for the past 15 years.

He says the clock has been very reliable over a long period.

"It pretty much runs itself.

"Because it’s turning over at such a slow speed, there’s not a huge amount of wear on the parts."

Maintenance of the clock was taken over by the Lions Club of Alexandra after the Jaycees folded in 2009.

New people volunteering their time to keep the clock going is something Mr Taylor believes his former club should be grateful for.

"We’ve been fortunate that new people have come on all the time and kept it going," he said.

"The Jaycees are really indebted to the Lions in recent years for picking up the responsibility."

The milestone will be celebrated today with a function in Alexandra, which will bring together volunteers and other members of the Alexandra Jaycees.

Mr Taylor, who will speak at the function, says the clock now holds an important place for Alexandra residents.

"If they threatened to take the clock out now there would be quite a big backlash."

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said those community members must be acknowledged for their outstanding vision.

"Nationally, Alexandra is probably best known for two things: its extreme weather and the clock on the hill.

"While the weather is a natural feature, the clock is quite an unusual one, a piece of brilliance from members of our community 50 years ago that has gained iconic status both here and overseas."


At a glance

Alexandra’s "clock on the hill". —

• Diameter: 11m

• Minute hand: 5.6m including the counterweight

• Hour hand: 4m including the counterweight

• Weight: Each hand weighs about 270kg. The driving mechanism weighs about 760kg.

• Mechanism: Reduction gearboxes powered by one hp synchronous motor

• Lighting: Originally 150 torch bulbs, powered by a reduction transformer. Now it has coloured LED lights

• Structure: Six vertical steel columns average 7.3m in length, supported on concrete foundations, fastened into the rock face with steel supports.

• Location: On Knobbies Range to the east of Alexandra

• Height above sea level: 200m.

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