Fwd: Railroad gauges and horses' behinds (fwd)

Rudolph C Troike rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Fri Mar 16 19:05:38 UTC 2001

This sounds like an updated bit of folklore (we do deal with folk-things
in the ADS), but it would be funnier if the specification for Roman
chariots were documented. You do see the ruts in stone roads all over the
former Empire, even in Syria.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2001 09:40:53 -0700
From: Elaine Lim <etl at u.arizona.edu>
To: Rudy <rtroike at u.arizona.edu>
Subject: Fwd: Railroad gauges  and horses' behinds

  Does the expression, "We've always done it that way!" ring any bells?

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

  Why was that gauge used?  Because that is 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 is 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 the same wheel spacing.


   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?
   Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and
   England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

   And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts,
   which  everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon
   wheels.  Since  the chariots were made for (or  by) Imperial Rome, they
   all had the same wheel spacing.

   The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is
   derived 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 horses ass came up with it, you
   may be exactly right.  This is because  the Imperial Roman war chariots
   were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two

   Now, the twist to the story... There is 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 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 happens 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, a 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.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list