Does the statement, "We've always done it like that" ring any bells? Read
to the end, this is a new one for me.
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet,
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?
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
Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. The
United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from
original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies
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 army
[Unable to display image] chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate
the back ends of two war horses.
Now the twist to the story
When you 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 Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who
designed the SRBs would 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, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.
So, a major Space Shuttle 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.
And you thought being a HORSE'S ASS wasn't important
16 years ago