Why 4 FEET 8.5 Inches is Very Important
Fascinating Stuff …
The U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
In other words, bureaucracies live forever.
So the next time you are handed a specification, procedure, or 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.
Now, the twist to the story:
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, you will notice that 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 larger,
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!
Now you know, Horses’ Asses control almost everything.
Explains a whole lot of stuff, doesn’t it?
This is the single most mind blowing fact I’ve read on tumblr, every day is a school day-thank you.
Nice history lesson!
My daughter and I were just discussing this very subject.
Man that’s so much less interesting than what really happened:
The eventual standardization of railroad gauge in the U.S. was due far less to a slavish devotion to a gauge inherited from England than to the simple fact that the North won the Civil War and, in the process, rebuilt much of the Southern railway system to match its own:
“[I]n the occupied South the government went into the railroad business on a large scale. In February 1862 [Secretary of War] Stanton established the U.S. Military Rail Roads and appointed Daniel McCallum superintendent. A former Erie Railroad executive and an efficient administrator, McCallum eventually presided over more than 2,000 miles of lines acquired, built, and maintained by the U.S.M.R.R. in conquered portions of the South.3″
In other words, there was nothing inevitable about a railroad gauge supposedly traceable to the size of wheel ruts in Imperial Rome. Had the Civil War taken a different course, the eventual standard railroad gauge used throughout North America might well have been different than the current one.