May 15, 2008

"Gotta Admit..Answers A Whoooole Lot Of Nagging Questions" **

I'm fighting off a stomach bug today, surely the most pernicious of ailments. (How fair is it that one should feel so drained and yet so absolutely horrified by the concept of food at the same time?) So posting may be pretty light.

However, a friend and regular reader sent this to the Tasty Bits (TM) Mail Sack, and I pass it along for your enjoyment:

A History Lesson on Railroad 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 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.

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 th eir 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. 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/Procedure/Process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with it?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses.) Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its laun ch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah . The engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's h ad 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 SRB's 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 determ ined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. And you thought being a hor se's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything... and CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

I've no idea whether parts or all of this are factually true, although it seems plausible enough. However, I've no doubts about what one might call the Greater Truth of the story.

** Spot the quote.

Posted by Robert at May 15, 2008 09:45 AM | TrackBack

Wasn't this debunked on Snopes?

Posted by: Homer at May 15, 2008 11:11 AM


I've been a fan of your blog for nigh on a long time.

Turned on to you from our mutual friend, Steve-o...who, I've noticed, hasn't contributed recently...or at least not very often when I check...which is perhaps weekly.

Can you tell him I miss him? Where is that Llama off to?



Posted by: Vic Barry at May 15, 2008 03:21 PM

The Snopes debunking, for what it's worth.

Posted by: Ed Flinn at May 16, 2008 07:52 AM

The quote comes from the immortal Bloom County. The quote in question comes from a Sunday strip where Milo explains just how Gary Hart will win the 1988 election.

...And yes, I do read too many comics, thanks for asking... ;)

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at May 19, 2008 01:03 AM