Eastern Oregon’s sliver of Mountain Time Zone was created back when railroads ruled commerce and conference-call confusion was many decades off.
Many locals say the early 1920s move was for the best, economically linking communities including Ontario, Nyssa and Vale to the Boise, Idaho, metro area that begins just across the Snake River to the east. Some say it had lasting impact on Oregon politics.
Greg Smith, economic development director for Malheur County, laughed when asked how Oregonians to the west respond to reminders that Malheur is on Mountain Time.
“You get jokes about it and you get teased,” said Smith, a member of the Oregon House of Representatives who splits time between Ontario and Heppner, which is on Pacific Time.
He recalled a colleague in the Legislature from Malheur County starting his daily office hours well before anyone else at the State Capitol in Salem to accommodate constituents back home.
“Again, it’s just another indicator we in Malheur County are not always part of the state of Oregon,” Smith said.
“They don’t seem to know we are here,” said Jordan Valley, Ore., resident Bob Skinner, vice president of the national Public Lands Council. In Western Oregon offices where he has attended meetings, he even has seen state maps on which mapmakers “put the legend right over us.” Ontario attorney and State Sen. Cliff Bentz said, “People are constantly astounded that Eastern Oregon stretches clear to the foot
of the Rocky Mountains. They just don’t understand how large the state is, which is reflected in many more areas than just the time zone.”
The Gate City Journal of Nyssa on May 11,1923, reported the hour- ahead time change would take effect two days later. “It is to be presumed that time in the entire county will be changed to conform to railroad time, to avoid the inconvenience which various cities in southern Idaho
have found during the time ‘railroad time’ and ‘city time’ has been an hour apart,” the story said in part. A major rail facility was in Huntington, around the present-day line between Mountain and Pacific time.
On Dec. 2, 1910, the Weekly Chemewa (Ore.) American reminded readers that standardized time zones were still fairly new at the time, an 1883-84 nationwide initiative as travel was becoming more extensive.
“Before that, every town had its own time zone,” said Gary Fugate, president of the Malheur Historical Project. “When the railroads came in, got across the U.S. in the 1860s and up into our area in the 1880s, they needed to be on schedules.”
Local input helped finalize Eastern Oregon’s Mountain zone, but Ontario as recently as 1942 contemplated returning to Pacific, he said.
Sandy Hemenway, Columbia Bank vice president, Ontario branch manager and treasurer of the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, said Mountain Time comes up in conversation.
“This has happened multiple times if I am talking to someone
and it comes up, she said: “‘Oh, I thought all of Oregon was on Pacific Time.’ If they are on the other side of the mountains somewhere, some people don’t realize this.”
Meetings are best scheduled by clearly stating the starting time in both time zones, Hemenway and Bentz said. Bentz has had colleagues from the west arrive an hour late
for meetings. Hemenway has
seen online calendar reminders of upcoming meetings post the wrong start time.
Mountain Time can offer practical advantages in addition to the tie-in
to the greater Boise economy, said Hemenway, whose bank’s headquarters are on Pacific.
“If you get to work early and send someone an email, they may be impressed,” she said. And there is an extra hour, in effect, to meet transaction-processing deadlines.
Chris Christensen, an Oregon Cattlemen’s Association district vice president who lives north of Vale, functions just fine on Mountain Time.
“Part of living here is dealing with that,” he said. Meetings among people in both zones must be coordinated carefully, the start and end of the business day in each zone considered.
“It’s just something you have to program into your travels,” Christensen said.