Legacy Specifications


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.
So 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' asses.) 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 in 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, and 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? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything...
(no attirbution - got it in an email)
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
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You think that is bad, Toronto's (in Canada) surface streetcars and subway use a 4' 10 7/8" gauge. Look up the history behind that!!
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When George Stephenson built his first locomotive for the Killingworth colliery, it was built to a gauge of 4ft 8ins, which was the gauge then in use at this colliery. When he later built the Stockton and Darlington railway, and subsequently the Liverpool and Manchester, he adopted the same gauge, though for reasons uncertain, an extra half inch was added at about the same time.
If Isambard Kingdom Brunel's 7ft gauge, which he used for the the Great Western railway, had been adopted instead, railways today would have been very different. Brunel was a visionary who forsaw high speeds and transportation of large masses, for which the wider gauge had many advantages.
I know absolutly nothing about horses but it seems to me that 4ft 8.1/2 would be a trifle narrow for two horses to run side by side pulling a chariot?
Stuart
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It is an urban legend.
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In article

I know :-)
Stuart
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On Mon, 12 Oct 2009 15:30:04 -0700 (PDT), Robatoy
Did you read Snopes' explanation?
It was lame.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
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That it is an urban legend was mentioned on some site that dealt with all the different gauges. There are more than a hundred. Many obscure ones belong to underground mining railroads.
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On Mon, 12 Oct 2009 16:27:37 -0700 (PDT), Robatoy

This thing has been around a long time. The earliest reference that I've seen is 1994. It's been around so long that each of the elements in the chain of causation has pro and con arguments all over the place. Makes for interesting reading - like Rashomon.
Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
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Robatoy wrote:

It may be. I didn't check Snopes. I liked the story anyway and passed it on. I also claimed it as mine, after years of research, which is fine, 'cause most of the people on my list think I'm full of it anyway.
Tanus
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On Mon, 12 Oct 2009 15:16:18 -0400, Tom Watson wrote:

<snip of very old legend>
Actually, I read (and don't remember where) that the gauge was supposed to be 5', but the rails were laid 5' outside to outside instead of inside to inside. It was cheaper to regauge the wheels than to rip up and re-lay the rails.
I have no idea if that's any more true than Tom's legend, but at least it makes sense :-).
--
Intelligence is an experiment that failed - G. B. Shaw

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Gotta be an urban legend. How do you think rails get moved? You don't think they would have noticed earlier?
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