Spring Ahead – Fall Back?

Yore Aspen

Changing the time was a bit of work on this clock
gracing the lobby of the Hotel Jerome. (T. Willoughby)

Click to

Tim Willoughby
October 27,

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

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.”

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 redmtn@schat.net.