Tuesday, January 17, 2006

We've Always Done it This Way

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

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That is a exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that is 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 is 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 is 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 specification and wonder what horse's arse 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.

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. Thiokol makes the SRBs at their factory at 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 arse.

And you thought being an ARSE wasn't important!

5 comments:

Jupiters Girl said...

That was a tedious joke. Or, was it a joke? No offense, Jokemail. I still enjoyed it. It helps me make light of other moments in my day.

Did you hear about the mayor of New Orleans expressing that he is creating a chocolate city? Now, that's funny. I love when people lose their inhibitions and say what's on their mind.

Binty McShae said...

Like it, JM, like it. That one must have slipped through my inbox when it did the rounds.....

Jokemail said...

Jupiter's Girl - I fully accept that not everyone will find everything posted here highly amusing, but as long as you're enjoying most of them, I'll be content :)

Thanks Binty

Jupiters Girl said...

I felt funky most of the day for writing that and not owning up to it being my own fault. I think I would be labeled with A.D.D. if I allowed it.

I know you don't write the jokes and I had nothing better to offer - so next time, I'll just shut the hell up. Keep up the good work, dear.

Jokemail said...

I enjoy the comments, even if you don't like something.

According to the stats I get somewhere in the region of 30 to 35 visits a day, but this is one of those sites where most people turn up for a minute, read the joke and leave, rather than get involved in long conversations.

A quick smile for the day is the purpose of this blog!

Now, if I could just get people to click on the ads a bit more often I might be able to justify the time I spend on it...