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"Spring Ahead, Fall Down"
By Dave Kiffer


November 06, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - In all the hoopla over the Nov. 2 elections, I almost forgot to "Spring Ahead, Fall Back."

It really wasn't my fault. Beginning Friday afternoon, I was subjected to 39 hours of consecutive telephone solicitations from groups for and against either ballot propositions or political candidates. Actually, it would have more been hours (Call the Guinness Book folks!), I'm sure, but I finally fell asleep sometime around 6 am Sunday morning. That was why I missed the 2 am switch over. While 2 am became 1 am and then passed 2 am an hour later, I was listening to pleasantly modulated electronic voice explain why it was wrong to require more voter signatures if you want to appoint someone to use marijuana to bait bears....or maybe it was some who thought it was right to require more signatures. I forget.

jpg Dave Kiffer

The extra hour actually did allow me to catch-up, because I'm usually about 57 minutes behind the rest of the world anyway. If I'd been similarly distracted in the Spring, I'd still be living nearly two hours in the past. As it was, for about three minutes or so, I was actually living in the future (or at least the future as it was in Seattle, sort of). Go figure.

I've always been a little leery of the value of Daylight Savings Time around these parts. The idea that we need a sudden jolt of afternoon daylight in the summer and a little less in the winter seems more than bit bass akwards. Some folks have suggested that we just stay on Daylight Savings Time all year round. That seems like a better situation, since there aren't that many farmers getting up at the crack of dawn here and the fishermen that do, do so primarily in the summer anyway.

Unfortunately, old timers know that the time in Ketchikan is a political issue, one that was "resolved" by Governor Bill Sheffield a little more than 20 years ago when he condensed the state's four time zones into two to bring Alaskans "closer together." Personally, being on the same zone as Nome does not make me feel particularly "closer" to the folks in the Bering Sea or Board of Trade saloons, but I digress.

Time was, people thought little of time in Ketchikan. Once or twice a day, the radio operators would synchronize time with Seattle, but in general folks would pretty much set their watches (if they had them and many didn't) by the lunch and break time whistle blasts from the canneries and the downtown spruce mill. At one point, we were on Alaska time, which was an hour later than Seattle, but by the 1960s, we were on Pacific Time, the same as Seattle. Most of Southeast was on Pacific Time, except the far northern part which was on Yukon Time. Central Alaska was "Alaska" time and far western Alaska and the Aleutians had a fourth time zone.

The fact that Alaska was in four time zones by itself was always a good way to explain to our Lower 48 brethren just how it big was - just like the four time zones that spanned the US from New York to California.

But Alaska's "size" has also always been a red herring in all the discussions to move the capital to Anchorage (let's call a spade a spade here, there is really no likelihood that a brand new capital would ever rise out of the mosquito infested lowlands that is Willow). Proponents of the move say that Alaska is too spread out and that the capital must be somewhere more accessible to the majority of the residents than Juneau currently is. Opponents note that making laws is like making sausage and folks in the Railbelt should be happy they are far enough away to avoid the stench.

Voters (or at least a bunch of temporary pipeline workers) approved moving the capital in 1976. In 1982, there was a vote to approve the cost of the new capital and that failed. Governor Sheffield then took that opportunity to bring the state closer together - at least symbolically.

In the fall of 1983, Southeast Alaska fell back two hours (one for the end of DST and one in order to meet Anchorage, which was springing ahead by not falling back its usual hour). Suddenly the entire state, except for a couple of Aleutian Islands where the terns and puffins don't vote, was on a single time zone.

I can't remember exactly what time it got dark that first day after the switch, but it was a shock to the system. It suddenly felt like a huge eclipse had blotted out the noonday sun. People began napping at their desks
at 3 pm, instead of 4 pm. Worst of all for the next couple of months our cat insisted upon waking us up at 4 am for his 6 am feeding.

Twenty years later, Southeast must feel "closer" to the Railbelt because I saw factoid from the Department of Labor last year that indicated that only 80 percent of the businesses in Southeast do most of their "business" with firms in the Lower 48. Prior to the big "fall back" that number was a whopping 86 percent. Truly, we are soooooo much closer together as a state now.

Perhaps the final word on Daylight Savings Time should come from a friend of mine. Years ago, we were both reporting on a late night City Council meeting that had droned on into the "wee, wee, wee" hours (1:34 am to be exact). It was a few days past the spring time change. As we headed to our cars on Front Street, a denizen of one of the late night emporiums (this was BTFOJS or Before The Flood of Jewelry Stores) staggered out onto the sidewalk.

He looked at us and laughed. "Spring ahead," he slurred just before doing a face plant on the sidewalk.

"...and Fall Down," my friend noted.

Dave Kiffer ©2004


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