For the last month, a great disagreement has taken place around 3 p.m. in Buckley Park.
First, the County Courthouse Clock one of oldest, proudest relics in the county declares the passing of the hour with melodious bellowing.
Then, silent and defiant, the great clock above Alpine Bank in the Crossroads building waits almost two minutes before anointing the new hour.
On Tuesday, their ritual dispute was not resolved by an iPhone, which said it was 3:03 p.m., while the Crossroads clock insisted it was only 3:02 p.m., and the Courthouse clock, throwing caution to the wind, pronounced it 3:05 p.m.
Which clock is the true keeper of Durango time?
The Courthouse clock is the clear sentimental favorite. Made by the storied Seth Thomas Clock Co. of Thomaston, Conn., the Courthouse clock was brought to Durango in 1891, and ran for 73 years before falling into disrepair.
(By comparison, the Crossroads clock, installed in 2006, is an upstart.)
The Courthouse clock also has lore on its side. After the new Courthouse was constructed in 1989, Tony Ferdinando, a machinist from Durango, quietly restored the clock and bell to its current glory, toiling for 600 hours without remuneration.
I was delighted to do it for free, as a service to the town, said Ferdinando, 89. But the town never sent me a thank you note. So whatever you do, dont call it the town clock. Its the county clock.
But according to Ryan Haaland, professor of engineering at Fort Lewis College, punctual Durangoans should set their watches by the Crossroads clock, which atomically synchronizes with the WWVB atomic clock receiver in Fort Collins.
The U.S. government uses the atomic clock as a time reference because it is based on a transition in an atom, from one energy level to another, and that transition is very precise, said Haaland. We use it for pretty much everything, from television broadcasts to time-keeping in satellites, such as GPS signals.
Haaland said that mechanical clocks like the County Courthouse clock, can be made very good, but theyre just not as accurate as atomic clocks because they use oscillation, whether a pendulum or a spring mechanism.
Think of winding a toy up and running across the floor eventually it slows down, and thats what happens in mechanical clocks, said Haaland.
Ferdinando acknowledged the Courthouse clock sometimes gets one or two minutes fast. Some people dont like that, he added. Then they bother the custodian.
Karen Barger, owner of Seasons Rotisserie & Grill on Main Avenue, said her customers appear to prize punctuality, and few were late to reservations.
I typically dont deal with people who arent super punctual, in our staff or in our customers. Were lucky everyones respectful of each others time, she said.
But interviews reveal that when the promise of delicious food is removed from the equation, Durangoans attitudes toward timekeeping become markedly more permissive.
Jessie Hamilton, a local entrepreneur, said that, around here, on average, were not that on time. Hamilton said it is culturally acceptable to be half an hour late in Durango.
Half an hour does indeed appear to be the gold standard for local belatedness. Al Thye, La Plata County general services director, said that when others were late to meetings, he would typically persevere for a half hour before giving up.
Thye is assiduous about being on time. Hamilton, however, gamely admits that she is frequently late, perhaps because of the fact that her many wristwatches, upon running out of battery, are banished to her jewelry box.
But like many Durangoans, Hamiltons struggle with time-keeping is partly philosophical. Times not a perfect system because its not in line with nature or the seasons, said Hamilton. Days grow shorter. Yet we still stick with the same system of time.
Professor Haaland said there was some scientific basis for Durangoans more elastic conception of time. Einstein demonstrated over 100 years ago that time is not the absolute we once thought it was, said Haaland. At higher speeds, time slows down. For instance, if you flew in a spacecraft at a very, very high speeds, the clock would slow down and you would age less.
It is unclear whether the Crossroads clock, for all of its atomic accuracy, suits the rather languorous pace of life to which Durangoans are happily accustomed.
As the design architect and co-developer of Crossroads Durango Stage 1, Jim Hoffman chose Crossroads atomic clock for its accuracy. I dont think the planning board would have approved of anything that chimed, said Hoffman.
Though Hoffman describes himself as punctual, he agreed that time passes differently in Durango. Obviously its a much more laid-back environment than some of the metropolitan areas where Ive lived. In London, youre catching trains to catch buses, and time becomes slightly more critical.
But within Durangos social environment, a few minutes here and there doesnt seem to bother me, or most folks. I think its the thing we like about Durango, said Hoffman.