Vernon Morning Star reporter Roger Knox visits the iconic Vernon oddity magnetic hill. (Parker Crook - Morning Star)

Gravity has no hold on Vernon’s Magnetic Hill

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

You’re on a rural Vernon road in the BX. Your vehicle is pointing north, appearing to be on a downhill portion of the road. You stop your vehicle at a certain point on the road. You put the car, pointing downhill, in neutral.

Physics suggests you should then roll downhill, no?

No.

You will be pulled uphill. For a fair distance. Reaching speeds of 20 kilometres/hour.

Welcome to Vernon’s Magnetic Hill.

Found on Dixon Dam Road, the anomaly has been a hit with locals for decades.

“One of the first things I did when I got my driver’s licence was trying Magnetic Hill,” said Roger Knox, reporter with The Morning Star, 55. “Over the years, I’ve taken friends from out of town to it, showed them how it works, and watched their amazement-like reactions. I’ve taken my son there and some of his friends.

“I’ve often thought of starting a Magnetic Hill tour side business.”

Read more: Trail to go through Magnetic Hill area

A 2016 post on waymarking.com confirmed Vernon’s Magnetic Hill works.

“We had just arrived on Dixon Dam Road contemplating the complexities of this gravity hill. We exited the car when along came a red pickup truck and he stopped and put his truck into neutral and started coasting up/down the hill. He then turned around a little down the road and returned again doing the same thing.

“When he reached us, with a big grin he said, ‘Hey guys, it works.’ He has lived in the area for quite a while and always heard about this gravity hill and thought he would try it out. Inspired we gave it a try, and though slow we did coast along the road.”

Photographer Miles Overend wrote of his Magnetic Hill experience in The Vernon News 60 years ago, April 1959, joined by reporter Harvie Gay:

“I tried to get pictures of the car rolling uphill by itself. Twice it rolled into the left ditch halfway up the slope. I decided that with fenders the price they are, it would be better to have Harvie steer. But whichever way you do it, the car always rolls uphill and refuses to roll downhill…”

According to Wikipedia and Youtube, there are three such magnetic or gravity hills in B.C.: Vernon’s Magnetic Hill, one in Abbotsford at McKee Road just before Ledgeview Golf Course, and one in Maple Ridge at 100th Avenue and 256th Street, right beside an old elementary school.

Wikipedia lists nine other such hills across Canada.

A gravity or magnetic hill is a place where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land, creating the optical illusion that water flows uphill or a car left out of gear will roll uphill, among others.

Businessinsider.com championed the optical illusion in a 2016 report on magnetic or gravity hills.

“All of these sites have one thing in common (other than their apparent disregard for gravity): the horizon is either curved or obstructed from view. This is key,” said the report. “Horizons provide us with a very useful reference point when we’re trying to judge the slope of a surface. A study published in Psychological Science in 2003 found that false horizon lines can be deceiving to observers perceiving landscapes.

“Without a true horizon in sight, objects such as trees and walls — which your eyes use as visual clues to determine perpendicularilty — can play tricks on you. If these objects are leaning slightly, they might make you think you’re looking at a downward slope, when in actuality you may simply be looking at a flat (or even uphill!) surface.

“As a result, anything you rest upon the surface — whether it’s a rubber ball, a stream of water, or a 4,000-pound car — will appear to fight the flow of gravity and travel uphill. And while the thought of ghosts or supernatural forces carrying these objects is tempting, the most likely explanation is that your eyes are just playing tricks on you.”

Read more: Shatzko leads RDNO voting

A word of caution: please beware of traffic in both directions if you’re going out to the spot. And try not to end up in the ditch like Harvie and Miles.

In the end, it looks like Sir Isaac Newton had it right all along.


@VernonNews
newstips@vernonmorningstar.com

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Miles Overend wrote of his experience driving Magnetic Hill in The Vernon News nearly 60 years ago, in April 1959. (Courtesy - Greater Vernon Museum and Archives)

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