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Does the statement, "We've always done it that way" ring any bells...?

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 England, and English expatriates

built 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 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?

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England)

for their legions. The 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.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived

from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And

bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a spec and told we have always done it that

way and wonder what horse's ass came up with that, you may be exactly


because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to

accommodate the back 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


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. 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 ??

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