Thursday, September 24

Making Tracks

This in from my no. 1 fan, Davide - grazie mille!

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 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 same 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 was the original spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those oddly sized 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? Ancient Romans formed the initial chariot ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. 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 chariot. Thing is, chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses (or, two horse's asses).

And now, for the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, you'll see 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 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.

In short, 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.

So, the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder, 'What horse's ass came up with it?', you may be exactly right.

I don't know if this story is true, but I love it regardless.


GC said...

"Roman war chariots"!?!?!

Ok, the supplies' wagons, but Romans never used "war chariots"... even cavalry was odd (and used mostly as a recon corp and to harass fleeing enemies until the late empire) to the stocky, firm on their feet Romans.

War chariots. what does he think, we are some kind of Assyrian or Babylonian??


Funny story tho :)

Irreverent Italy said...

Ciao Guido! Bentornato -- e grazie della precisione...should I change the entry?

Dave514 said...

Caro Guido:
Regardless of the chariot type, the best examples are to be found in Pompeii between the stepping stones at the crossroads of the decumen roads and the cardinal ones.

Francesca, if in doubt about something on the internet you can check it out at This email checks out 100% except for the nit pickers then only 95%.

Dave514 said...

Have your communications both personal and business been rather difficult in Sept?

Blame it on Mercury being Retrograde till Sept 29th when it will once more go Direct, and communications will return to normal. I know mine have been awful.

Question to All and sundry: Where do you find the greatest number of Astrologers in one place at any given moment of time?

Answer: Why in the same place you find one of the best Central Intelligence Agencies of course.

Francesca, and your answer is?????

mt said...

Dear LEM,
i liked that one. ATB

Irreverent Italy said...

Davide - in answer to your curious mind:

1. I seem to love Mercury Retrograde, things couldn't be better on all fronts, except my horoscope keeps predicting dire consequences!!!

2. Greatest number of astrologers is at a Mind Body Spirit convention in Glastonbury, England.

un abbraccio!

Irreverent Italy said...

p.s. is an outfit fun by a husband/wife team. While I believe they probably do fairly good work, I do question how they find every answer to everything...
Having said that, they probably use the internet. Which could signify they perpetuate the legend, or, dis it without true factual knowledge, no???

Dave514 said...

You maybe right about Snopes but they do a pretty good job.

Dave514 said...

I didn't know that the convention of Astrologers in Glastonbury had a Central Intelligence Agency too.

No, try again.

The Intelligence Agency is one of the oldest in the world. The Astrologers are on permanent staff.

Now who could that be. This is a riddle.

Dave514 said...

I should rephrase the question: Where do you find the greatest number of astrologers in the world all the time?

Answer: Where you find one of the best Central Intelligence Agencies.

Now that's better. So where?

Irreverent Italy said...

Well, my answer is China...but, I prefer to leave this space open to things Italian ... ciao carissimo.

Dave514 said...

Carissima Francesca:
Why the same people that have the greatest number of scientists and doctors of all types on hand.

If I point you whistle! You can probably see it from where you live.


I think that's Italian enough for you isn't it LOL!!!!


PS You can count on me to keep it Italian at all times.

A thought: What's the minimum number of phone calls it takes to get an international socio-economic question answered?

Answer: 8 Pope to Cardinal, to Bishop, to Priest and back. The CIA would love to be able to do that.

Irreverent Italy said...

@Davide - who's counting??
Considering the sheer numbers of people in China, the fact that they wholly believe in Astrology, and have the greatest numbers of any category (fill in the blank)...I'm sticking with the Dragon.