(Fwd) Fw: How Specs Live Forever

Heidi J Torres hjt at tenet.edu
Fri Oct 18 21:07:28 PDT 1996

On Fri, 18 Oct 1996 steveo at nexus.flash.net wrote:

> The following is an example of medevial history having an impact on 
> modern life.
> Steffan of the Tall Pines
> ------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
> > Truth is funnier than fiction...
> > 
> > How Specs Live Forever
> > 
> > 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 the US 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 States 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 at mail.utexas.edu
> > **********************************************************
Good sir,

I've heard this before, but with a slight variation: that the gauge was 
based upon the wheel to wheel width of early Briton war chariots.  (I 
just moved and can't find my Celtic bibliographies so can't give exact 
cites but the info appeared in that '77 National Geographic article on 
the Celts, and also in one or two more of my books.)  It was also my 
understanding that the Romans did not bring war-chariots to Britain -- 
infantry first, and later cavalry; and that, in fact, they were quite 
amazed (according to Caesar) to find they were being assaulted by 
barbarians wheeling around in them on the shores of Britania.  

That's my two-cents worth.  If anyone's interested in the particular 
citations, e-mail me and I'll try and find them.  If there's good info to 
the otherwise, I'd like to have that, too.



(K.C. Moon posting on Heidi Torres acct)

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