An Interesting Statistic
Here is a look into the corporate mind that is very interesting,
educational, historical, completely true, and hysterical all at the same
time: 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 US
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 ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance 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 initi al
ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their
wagon wheels. Since the chariots 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 behind 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 Thiokol 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 Behind!