A fascinating look back at making tracks!
This came in from Suzann, Su to her friends, a few days ago. Suzann is Dan Gomez’s sister and if Dan’s name is familiar it’s because he, too, sends in items for Learning from Dogs, the recent Tad too much cabin pressure being an example. It was Su that invited me out to San Carlos, Mexico for Christmas 2007 which resulted in me meeting Jean, a long-time friend of Su, and, as they say, the rest is history! OK, to the article from Su.
Here’s a question?
Think about railroad (railways in ‘English’!) tracks. 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 Scotland, and Scots expatriates designed the US railroads.
Why did the Scots 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 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 Scotland, 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 Scotland) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since. [And rarely repaired! 😉 Ed. ]
And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts. Which forever more 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.
Bureaucracies live forever….
So the next time you are handed a specification or a 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, 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 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.
Just a fabulously interesting account of something we all take for granted, or had done until now! Thank you so much, Su, for sharing that with everyone.