Fw: Train Tracks

From: Mark Walker (tap@cgocable.net)
Date: Sun May 13 2001 - 21:43:33 MDT

> The beginning may be familiar to some, but the addendum could be a new
> one for you.
> Ever Wonder Why?...
> 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 initial
> 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 extra-terrestrial twist to the story...
> 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.
> And you wonder why it's so hard to get ahead in this world...

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 10:00:05 MDT