I had to post this

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
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 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
Reply to
Tim Coyle
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Tim Coyle
Well I suppose it must be a few weeks since this was last posted to a newsgroup. You might want to read the Snopes response...
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Reply to
Dave Fossett
Tim Coyle wrote yet another version of the old horses ass tale:
Various forms of this tale have been passed around the 'Net for years. The one thing they all have in common is that they make it sound like this all happened "On Purpose", when in fact it's probably more a mixture of half-truths and coincidence. See:
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Reply to
It's been posted before. It makes a good story, but I'm not sure how true it is. The story has had its detractors. Can anyone cite sources for this story? Historians, historical research, etc.?
Reply to
Jay Cunnington
There's something of a gap in the historical recording between the time the Romans left Britain and the first English tram roads. However it is correct that carts traditionally used a constant spacing of approx 5 feet between wheel tread centers in the 18th and 19th century and that this matched the spacing on Roman built roads. The tram railways used normal roadway carts on flanged rails. mostly with inside flanged edges but some with outside flanged edges. When Iron began to be used for rail running surfaces it was realized that it was easier to put the flange on the wheel and the running surface narrower and thicker.
Reply to
Greg Procter
Actually its because thousands of years ago someone forgot to measure twice and cut once. No one has owned up to the mistake in all this time. Much of what we have today wouldn't be possible if our ancient ancestors didn't screw up so much. Much of what will be in another two thousand years will be possible because all the things we screw up now. Covering up or rationalizing mistakes is an age old process. Not long ago this was called BS. Today we call it Spin. Bruce
Reply to
Bruce Favinger
While superficially this makes sense, mine carts and many of the tiny feeder railroads in the U.K. were more commonly one or two foot guage, the famous Great Western Railway in Britain was broad guage, the narrow guage of Colorado was three foot guage, the Maine two footers were ... two foot guage, the Russian railroads were a different broader guage than European railroads to slow any invasion attempts, etc..
The 5' 8.5" guage provides a reasonable compromise between stability, material cost, wheel and rail wear, load carrying capabilities, roadbed construction, and other factors. In almost all cases where other guages were tried, they were abandoned in favor of the standard guage - even in locations where there wasn't an interchange.
As for five foot eight and a half inches being an "odd" measurement, it is no more odd than devising a set of measurements based on the distance between the joints of an arm (cubit) or the kings knuckle joint (inch according to some legends) the weight of stones, the wavelength of some obscure chemical, or the distance from the sun to the earth.
As for the shuttle boosters having to fit though a tunnel, what tunnel? If the boosters really had to be wider, wouldn't if make sense to build them closer to the launch area or in an area where they could be barged to the launch site? A more likely explanation for the width of the boosters is that Mr. Morton or Mr. Thiokol had a great grandfather with a Mormon girlfriend, which caused him to marry and to move to the area, which resulted in a child, which resulted in another child, who got interested in engineering, which caused a fabrication plant to be built there, etc. James Burke had a tv series showing silly links between events. It is just flummery.
Reply to
Oh no! Here we go again.
I hadn't seen this one for at least 6 months :-).
Reply to
It will never die.We must all face Death, Taxes and Horses Ass's.
Reply to
Bruce Favinger
O Bruce, in our time, even the cry of "BULL - - IT" has to have a politically correct form of expression. You know that. Froggy,
Reply to
Bullspin? Bullspit?
Reply to
Steve Caple
I should have made the distinction between carts used within the mines and those used for external transport ie those used to transport coal to the nearest port or canal. The 1-2 footer carts were suited to small mine spaces but only carried tiny amounts compared to a barge.
4' 8.5" :-) The five feet tread center to center is not quite so odd.
All things considered, the link between Roman chariot track and standard gauge railways stands, unless of course you can show and gaps in the linkage.
Reply to
Greg Procter
Roman army
unless you use shetland ponies.....which the Romans definitely did not. Maybe 6'?
Reply to
John H
I invoke the R.M.R equine gauge posting rule.
For the next 30 days we get to unmercifully heap verbal abuse and derision on Tim for posting this.
Tim Coyle wrote:
Reply to
I don't think we need a rule for that. I think it will take care of itself - with or without a rule. Froggy,
Reply to
Well it was the 1st time I had seen it.
Reply to
Tim Coyle
What I find truly stupefying is how anyone that considers him/herself to be a railfan, and sees the vast majority of other folks spelling "gauge" correctly can continue to screw it up.
Reply to
Much like the internet is such an insecure system today because it began as a trusted network between intellectuals.
Reply to
Jay Cunnington

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