carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Tue Oct 3 19:02:54 MDT 2000

     The US standard railroad gauge (width between the two 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  the
     railroads were built by English expatriates.

     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

     So  who built those old rutted roads?  The first  long  dis-
     tance  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?  Roman war chariots first
     formed  the initial ruts, which everyone else had  to  match
     for fear of destroying their wagon wheels.  Since the chari-
     ots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike
     in the matter of wheel spacing.  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 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 ends of two war horses.  Thus, we  have
     the answer to the original question.

     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.  The SRBs are made by  Thio-
     kol  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 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 over two thousand years ago by the width of a
     Horse's Ass!


     A few more burgers and we can measure Klinton.  CWSIV

Juno now offers FREE Internet Access!
Try it today - there's no risk!  For your FREE software, visit:

More information about the Rushtalk mailing list