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? One would think that engineers of the day, had computed the best measurements for stability at high speeds, but …. Rather, … it’s 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?
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.
That’s because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts. (In Chicago, I drove a VW Beetle in the early 60’s winters; one either drove in the ruts, and a VW Beetle wouldn’t, or one drove one in and one out – taking the chance of tearing out the undercarriage, or learned where one could enter and exit the ruts – a real learning experience.)
So who built those old roads, and …. why were they rutted like that?
Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England ) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.
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/process, and wonder, ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’ , you may be exactly right.
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.
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?
Well, they think they are, and …. Horse’s Asses control almost everything…
…Explains a whole lot of things, doesn’t it?
My friend (a retired judge) tells me that this is fiction ….. entertaining but fiction, that this explanation has been around for at least ten years and it’s been checked and crossed checked and always comes up as fiction.
Even if he’s correct, (he’s pretty reliable); obviously, I didn’t make this up, ….. and it’s also obvious that the reason it’s been around so long is because ….. it makes more sense than a lot of other explanations!
And it seems evidentiary of the way we all seem to think INSIDE the box ….. that it could very well be true — Congress not excepted! They’re permanently encased inside that box! Their answer always seems to be ….. “WE CAN FIX ANY PROBLEM; JUST THROW MONEY AT IT!”