Sunday, February 17, 2013

A History Lesson - The Story of the Railway Tracks

All makes sense in the end as you soon will clearly see.

Railroad Tracks

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails is 4 feet, 8.5 inches.

That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why is that gauge used?

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?

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/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?

So, Horse's Asses control almost everything...

...Explains a whole lot of things, doesn't it? 

Thank you Cousin Mel


Bernard said...

What a shame you have been away from blogging for so long. I came here from Mrs S, who has sadly decided to lay down her pen, but I have been so intrigued by trawling back through your entertaining posts.
This last one is especially interesting to me because I love railways. Mainly the Great Western Railway (but there are others - usually very narrow). Of course I favour a seven foot gauge, as Brunel originally proposed. Now I wonder where the idea of 7' came from?
Cheers.... Bernard

Peajay said...

Thank you for your kind words Bernard, I'm afraid the lack of blogging can be directly attributed to the rise of Facebook posting. I am less here due to being there instead but pop back now and then. I miss all the extras which could be dabbled with in regards to basic coding and titivating the pages to personalise, unlike the regimental nature of Facebook with it's imposed changes and constant security issues.
Some year's ago I wrote an essay for my Jewellery BA on the similarities and differences between Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford. Brunel held the view that with the larger guage would come faster speeds, as at that stage trains dawdled along at about 30mph whereas his larger wheels whipped past at around 60. Unfortunately as with so many pioneers, monetary considerations were placed higher than discovery.
My personal preference through researching for the essay led me to favour the work of Brunel and even now this is reinforced each day when I walk through St Pancras Station.
Thank you for popping by.