Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by nutmeg, Feb 24, 2008.

  1. The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4

    feet 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

    Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in

    England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

    Why did the English build them like that? 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.

    Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel 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? Roman

    war chariots first made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to

    match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels and wagons. Since

    the chariots were made for, or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike

    in the matter of wheel spacing.

    Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States

    standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the

    original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

    Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you

    are handed a specification and wonder which horse's rear came up

    with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman war

    chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of

    two war-horses.

    And now, the twist to the story...

    There's an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges

    and horses' behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its

    launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides

    of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs.

    Thiokol makes the SRBs at their factory at 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 SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.

    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 by the width of a

    Horse's [rear]!
  2. I believe Brazil has three different railroad track spacings.
  3. Thanks for the update Longhorn. I should have known better and double
    checked what I had read before posting (something I normally do)(with the exception of the joke thread, I post any ole crap there). I've annoyed myself.:mad: