I seemed to be fixated on time lately, ever since writing the recent Time Zones in Greenland. I went through my long list of open items and found a few more timely topics. The Twelve Mile Circle could benefit from subjects of that nature while I cleared the backlog. Murdo seemed a likely candidate.
Postcard from South Dakota. Photo by John Lloyd on Flickr (cc)
The little town of Murdo, South Dakota fascinated me. It began as another one of those settlements along a railroad in the Great Plains. In the case of Murdo, that happened in 1907 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the Dakotas. I featured this same railroad in an earlier 12MC article although for a completely different reason, in King of Portmanteau. Murdo existed like many other towns along this particular line because of Albert J. Earling, the King I proclaimed in that previous article.
Jones County selected Murdo as its seat of local government and not much else happened there ever since, although 488 people still lived there as of the 2010 Census. Murdo provided a home to a well-regarded automobile museum (including some items for sale). It also featured 1880 Town, basically a museum of old buildings transported to the spot from all over South Dakota. Murdo seemed like one of those places I’d stop to see if I were driving on Interstate 90 and happened to spot a sign, because I loved roadside attractions. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way, though.
What’s in a Name?
However, the name of the town seemed so unusual. Why Murdo? Many towns took the surname of a town founder or an early pioneer or even someone’s distant relative. Something like that happened here too although not entirely. Murdo was somebody’s first name, specifically Murdo MacKenzie. I’d never heard of anyone called Murdo before so I checked some of those awful baby name websites. Apparently Murdo came from Scottish Gaelic, meaning seaman, mariner or something similar like that, if those unsourced sites could be believed. However, it made sense for Murdo MacKenzie. He immigrated from Scotland so the linguistic connection existed assuming the dubious claims were true.
Eventually Murdo realized his American Dream by becoming a cattle baron. He focused his attention on this particularl corner of South Dakota just as the railroad arrived. The city of Murdo said:
In 1904, Mr. Murdo MacKenzie, head of the Matador brand, who had herds from Mexico to Canada, shipped train load after train load of Texas steers to the Standing Rock Reservation so they could graze on the Dakota grass.
Certainly a success story such as that deserved a little recognition. The town named in his honor seemed to accomplish that quite nicely.
What did that have to do with time?
1880 town. Photo by THEMACGIRL on Flickr (cc)
The always perceptive 12MC audience probably started wondering what my ramblings had to do with the observance of time several paragraphs ago. I’m getting to that.
I spotted an odd notation as I reviewed the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49 – Transportation, § 71.7 "Boundary line between central and mountain zones. What might be stranger, I wondered, the unusual notation or that I actually enjoyed reviewing obscure parts of the Code of Federal Regulations? Either way, it meant the audience could benefit from my discovery without having to wade through mind-numbing bureaucratic language. Subsection (g) said:
Points on boundary line. All municipalities located upon the zone boundary line described in this section are in the mountain standard time zone, except Murdo, S. Dak., which is in the central standard time zone.
One needs to understand that the boundary between Central and Mountain Time in the United States rivals just about any other division for sheer complexity. The code delineated all sorts of zigs and zags amongst various townships and ranges. Apparently officials decided that anytime the line bisected a municipality it would observe Mountain Time. However, somewhere in the distant past, someone in Murdo must have pushed back. I never learned the reason why. It seemed so far in the middle of nowhere, so distant from any obvious center of power large enough to pull Murdo into its Time Zone orbit. Why Central Time though? Why Murdo, and only Murdo? It will bedevil me forever.
Apparently some things are never meant to be known.