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- Subject: PC: Specifications
- From: Bob Zeolla <zeolla@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 12:06:29 -0400
Not exactly "on-topic", but thought this might brighten up your day!
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 the US railroads
were built by English expatriates [actually, the railroads were built
mostly by Irish and Chinese expatriates, two groups rarely mistaken for
English, but you get the idea]. Why did the English people 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 the same wheel spacing. Okay! Why did the wagons use
that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the
wagons would break on some of the old, long-distance roads, because
that's the spacing of the old wheel ruts. So who built these old rutted
roads? The first long-distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial
Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever
since. And the ruts? The initial ruts, which everyone had to match for
fear of destroying their wagons, were made by Roman war chariots. Since
all 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
questions. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5
inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman
army war chariot. Specs 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 chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the
two war horses.
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