Monday, January 31, 2005


The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4feet,
8.5 inches. That is an exceptionally odd number.

Now, why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in
England, and the U.S. Railroads were built by English expatriates. Why
did the English build them that way? Because the first rail lines were
built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's
the gauge they used. Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because the
people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they
used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

So why did the wagons have that particular odd spacing? Well, if they
tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of
the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of
the wheel ruts.

So, who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in
Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions.

The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads?The ruts
in the roads, which everyone had to match for fear of destroying their
wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots. Since the
chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the
matter of wheel spacing. The U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5
inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever.

So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's
ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial
Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back
end of two war horses. Thus we have the answer to the original question.

Now the twist to the story... When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its
launch pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the side of the
main fuel tank. These are Solid Rocket Boosters or SRBs. The SRBs are
made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the
SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to
be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad
line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The
tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track
is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So, the major design feature of
what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was
determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass!!!

Don't you just love engineering?

Disclaimer: Any errors/misstakes in spilling, glamour, tact, or fact are
transmission errors

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