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Monday, 11 April 2011

Monday meandering


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 English
expatriates designed 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 had used for building wagons, which used that 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
(including England ) for their legions. Those 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.

Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Bureaucracies live forever.

The next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process
and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with this?', you may be
exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just
wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.
(Two horses' arses.)
Now - the twist to the story:

A Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad has two big booster
rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are
solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol
at a factory in Utah .
Engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's 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, and the SRB's 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!
Ancient horse's asses control almost everything.

CURRENT Horses Asses in Washington are controlling
everything else.


  1. Lovely story.


    Snopes gives it 1/5. Maybe.

  2. Superb! A pair of horses asses are still trying to pull us into the Holy Roman Empire. Nothing changes.

  3. What figure would Snopes give to the existence of that place in England, between London & Birmingham, where a busy stretch of the M1 runs alongside a main railway track, which runs alongside a main canal, and the canal runs alongside an old major road which almost certainly started out in life as a horse track and before that a footpath. Thousands of years of really useful transport jammed close together within a few hundred yards of each other.
    And how would Snopes rate this story? The British Government is proposing a high speed train, trailing a long way after the Japanese and French. As the Government knows perfectly well, these countries pour taxpayers money heavily subsidising their systems. The Government is cheerfully going to levy taxes in order to pay for the construction of the new line. And then it is going to levy taxes forever more to subsidise the continued operation of the new railway.
    So forgetting Snopes for now, isn’t it time to pause and consider a really creative alternative, a broad-gauge railway line? Not just any broad-gauge (usually taken, in the UK, as about 7 feet) but a gauge capable of supporting a train wide enough to carry containers two or three or more side by side, and similarly stacked high?
    Because the standard container is now the worlds choice of cargo system. So the size and proportions of containers, and their multiples, dictate, and will continue to dictate, the shape of transport in the future.
    Brunel invented large ships, and thereby transformed marine transport.
    Boeing invented the Jumbo jet, and transformed aviation.
    Now might be the time for some Virgin type to “invent” wide trains, and so transform the world’s railways.
    Peter Melia


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