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Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 11:37:38 -0500 (CDT) 
From: "Donald L. Nash"  
To: staff@ots.utexas.edu
Subject: Some Standards Live Forever (humor)
[This came over the IETF list, so some of you have already seen it.  ++Don]
Some Standards Live Forever
The U.S. 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 the U.S. railroads 
were built by English expatriates.
Why did the English people 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 use that odd wheel spacing?  Well, if they tried 
to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long 
distance roads, because that's the spacing of the old wheel ruts.
So who built these old rutted roads?  The first long distance roads in 
Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The 
roads have been used ever since.  And the ruts?  The initial ruts, which 
everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first 
made by Roman war chariots.  Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial 
Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
Thus, we have the answer to the original questions.  The United State 
standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original 
specification  for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.  Specs and 
Bureaucracies live forever.  So, the next time you are handed a 
specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be 
exactly right.  Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just 
wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses.
     Professor Tom O'Hare   Germanic Lanuages (512) 471-4123 
     University of Texas at Austin tohare@mail.utexas.edu

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