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Clocking back on the job

Eion Clarke at home in his workshop cleaning cogs from the Carterton clock tower. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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After 13 years off the job, Eion Clarke is temporarily resuming his role as caretaker of the Carterton clock, after the man tasked with its maintenance died suddenly, just hours after taking it apart.

Seventy-year-old Ross Gray was tasked with taking the clock tower parts down while the structure was being strengthened.

His mentor, Clarke, cared for the clock tower for 37 years and helped train Gray to take over – he was also a pallbearer at Gray’s funeral last month,

Clarke said he couldn’t believe it when he heard the news.

“Ross died the day he took it apart,” he said.

“We worked together for a long time. He had a great knack of thinking things through.

“He was a good man.”

Clarke began maintaining the Carterton clock in 1969 after getting a call from the then mayor, Ron Wakelin.

“I was fixing Ron’s printing machines, and he said, ‘Son, you’re going to look after my clock’. I earned $87 a year – I think the paper boy made more.

“It’s just basic engineering,” he said.

His roles included keeping the time right and climbing up the tower each month to clean the clock mechanism.

“It was in storage for 20 years until we put it back together.”

The original tower was built above the Carterton post office in 1907, but it was badly damaged in the 1942 Wairarapa earthquake and had to be demolished.

The bells and clock parts from London went into storage until it was replaced in 1962 by the present 13m-high structure.

Several years ago, Carterton District Council undertook a seismic investigation and found that the tower would require earthquake strengthening works.

Clarke said he was helping clean and refurbish the clock parts during this time.

“Some of the parts were quite rusty.

“I’m cleaning all the parts, polishing the lantern wheels, and painting them green – one of the traditional colours of the clock mechanism.”

The council has been in contact with a company which specialises in these mechanisms.

A spokesperson for the council said it would also soon seek feedback from the community on possible new colour schemes for the clock tower.

Work on the clock tower is expected to take several months.

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