Kansas Mountain Time

Loyal reader Mr. Burns pointed out that my intended Dust Bowl route will traverse a psuedo-geo-oddity, moving from Central Time to Mountain time heading due north. That happens in other places sporadically, although not as rarely as moving east from Mountain Time into Pacific Time for example. One can’t be too choosy in this depopulated corner of the nation so I will take what I can get. Mildly unusual works for me.

The whole concept of Mountain Time in Kansas feels strange. Maybe it’s the name. The thought of referencing jagged peaks to a Great Plains state like Kansas seemed alien and out of place. Nonetheless, four of Kansas’ 105 counties on its westernmost edge do in fact observe Mountain Time, and there were many others that did the same in previous decades.

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Most interstate travelers probably enter Mountain Time in Kansas while driving along Interstate 70, about 35 miles before they hit Colorado. Look closely at the image and notice the green sign announcing the change. Mountain Time intrudes into Sherman, Wallace, Greeley and Hamilton Counties. I will likely clip only the southernmost of those counties, namely Hamilton. Even the small rural road I plan to use appears to have a time zone notice (street view) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Time Zones are defined in Title 49 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations, which deals with Transportation. That’s an historical artifact reaching back to the rise of railroads dependent upon standard times to define passenger and freight schedules. According to the Department of Transportation, standard times were created in 1883 (and each location could select its preferred time), then switched to Federal oversight in 1918 via the Interstate Commerce Commission, and finally shifted to the Department of Transportation in 1966 upon its creation.

49 CFR 71.1 clearly defines the Kansan portion of Mountain Time for those who simply must know the pertinent details.

(d) Kansas-Colorado. From the junction of the west line of Hitchcock County, Nebraska, with the Nebraska-Kansas boundary westerly along that boundary to the northwest corner of the State of Kansas; thence southerly along Kansas-Colorado boundary to the north line of Sherman County, Kansas; thence easterly along the north line of Sherman County to the east line of Sherman County; thence southerly along the east line of Sherman County to the north line of Logan County; thence westerly along the north line of Logan County to the east line of Wallace County; thence southerly along the east line of Wallace County to the north line Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County to the east line of Greeley County; thence southerly along the east lines of Greeley County and Hamilton Counties; thence westerly along the south line of Hamilton County to the Kansas-Colorado boundary; thence southerly along the Kansas Colorado boundary to the junction of that boundary with the north boundary of the State of Oklahoma.

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Consult a map and it’s easy to understand why a few Kansas counties continue to cling to mountain time.

Goodland, Kansas, a town within Mountain Time and sitting astride I-70 is located 200 miles (322 km) east of Denver, the capital of neighboring Colorado. Likewise, Goodland is 344 miles (554 km) west of Topeka, the capital of Kansas, and 406 miles (653 km) from the state’s largest metropolitan area, Kansas City. Clearly Goodland had an incentive to skew towards Denver rather than Kansas City. Nonetheless the bump can lead to time confusion. The best, in fact the only article I found that addressed this situation came from the Rocky Mountain News in 2008 — "Clock Change a Daily Challenge in Part of Kansas." It’s worth a read.

View Mountain Time in Kansas in a larger map

Mountain Time in Kansas shifted farther west over the past century. It used to run much closer to the 100th Meridian, a traditional division between east and west not only in the United States but also in Canada. Notice the current area of Kansas in Mountain Time (shaded) versus the boundaries recognized by various railroads in 1908, the black lines. Railroads focused on their tracks and not on the surrounding countryside so it’s difficult to reconstruct an exact historical time zone boundary line. The dark horizontal lines should be viewed as rough approximations exaggerated in length to enhance visibility.

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Dodge City was one of those places on the boundary a hundred years ago. The town and its residents observed Central Time, which was their prerogative during the period before Federal oversight. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad defined time a little differently. They drew a line precisely through the Dodge City railway station. Trains heading east from this point recognized Central Time. Trains heading west recognized Mountain Time. The railroad constructed two large decorative sundials on either side of the figurative line to recognize the distinction, a visual reminder to passengers and crew alike. Those some sundials still stand at the station today, recently restored, a relic of a period when Mountain Time cut much deeper into Kansas. Both sundials appear in the satellite image.

I couldn’t find a photo with a Creative Commons license to embed on this page so feel free to open a new tab to view one on Flickr. They wanted to charge $35 for a license to embed it here. Sheesh!

The momentum is pushing all of Kansas into Central Time although the four holdout counties don’t seem to be in much of a hurry.

Completely Unrelated

I know there are a couple of beer geeks in the audience. You may want to check out my Findery post about my recent visit to the smallest brewery I’ve ever seen.