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 ass 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 ass.
And you wonder why it's so hard to get ahead in this world...
A Note From the Educational Forums Committee...
Many of you who have been active on HVAC-Talk for a while will recall this being originally posted in the For Your Interest section. Most of the FYI threads have been integrated into the Educational Forums, but this one is more at home here on the lighter side.
I saw train tracks and thought it was a different story:
3 blonds are walking along when they come across some tracks. The first blond says those are bear tracks. The second one says, "No they're not, they're deer tracks". The third one says "I think they're..." but didn't get to finish since she was hit by a train.
Never knock on Death's door. Ring the bell and run, he hates that.
Views expressed here are my own and not neccessarily those of any company I am affiliated with.