Spring Ahead – Fall Back?
October 24, 2007
The phrase for remembering what to do with your clocks makes it easy to handle daylight saving time (DST). It wasn’t always so simple in Aspen; you really needed two clocks to track time.Aspen has a long history of wanting to pioneer new ideas. This was especially true in the 1960s. While the rest of the state debated whether to go on daylight saving time, Aspen decided it was such a good idea that it would go it alone.
Even though daylight saving time had been implemented nationally during both world wars and some European countries had been using it since 1918, the elderly, who tend to be early risers and uncomfortable with change, complained. I remember my great-aunt being most upset. She collected cuckoo clocks. It was always interesting to visit her because they were not all set on the same time and one clock or another would gong, clang or cuckoo every few minutes.”I’m just not going to change the time on my clocks,” she said.The agricultural communities of Colorado had the most influence in the state Legislature, and they were unanimously opposed to daylight saving time. Local ranchers said, “Animals run on sun time.” Feeding one hour earlier than “bright and early” was just not going to happen.The staunchest opponents to Aspen’s solo clock change came from those who did not live in Aspen. What time would you run on if you lived in Watson or Snowmass? Would the school bus run on state time or Aspen time? People would come to town for an appointment and forget about the difference in time. With doctors often being an hour behind schedule in the late afternoon anyway, it didn’t always matter. Complicating matters, the post office and state offices were required to operate on standard time.
Fishermen found fixing the time to be a great advantage. Aspen stores for years had closed at 5:30 or 6 p.m. and, without DST, fishing after work was limited. An extra hour on the streams saved more than time; it may have saved the day. Concerts at the often-cold tent were a bit warmer. Working gardeners found more time to pull weeds even though the daylight saved did not extend the growing season.People outside Aspen thought the town had gone crazy. They already believed people who lived there had “no common sense” so Aspen continued to serve as the punch line for numerous jokes. Aspen was saved in 1966 when Congress established a national time standard. It did so because, between 1960 and 1966, some states, counties and cities, including Chicago, had gone on DST while others had not. The Aspen problem had gone national. By 1966, 100 million Americans used DST. The act required each state to go “all on” or “all off.”
The statewide debate pitted the outdoor community against the entrenched traditionalists. It’s hard to believe, but much of the opposition arose because some people couldn’t figure out what to do with their clocks, and many had no understanding about time in general. One opponent said, “The extra hour of sunlight is burning up my yard.” Another said, “Government has no business fiddling with God’s time.”You would think that after 40 years of DST the idea would have taken root, but in 2000 Mary Anne Tebedo of Colorado Springs introduced a bill to take Colorado off DST. The legislation failed.The music group Chicago’s song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” was released just after Aspen’s DST affair. It really resonated with anyone who lived through Aspen’s timely “experiment.”Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.