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Author Topic: Railroads and Rocket Science  (Read 1297 times)

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Offline Don P

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Railroads and Rocket Science
« on: January 24, 2003, 02:55:47 PM »
My Folks sent this, thought y'all would enjoy it.
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8 and one-half inches. That's an interestingly odd number. Why, you ask intently, was that particular gauge or width used? The quick answer is that it is [careful with that word "is"] the way they first built them in England, and since American's stole some of their best ideas from England, they naturally built the early US Railroads to this same gauge. But why did the English build their railroads with that spacing? Because the first English rail lines were built by the same craftsmen who built the pre-railroad, horse-drawn tramways, and that's the gauge the tramways always used. Why was this gauge used for the tramways? Because the craftsmen who built the tramways conveniently used the same jigs and tools and machines and measurements that they had always used for building wagons that had been used broadly throughout England for centuries. [We have recently rediscovered the power of using the same machines to produce exactly the same things but then call these things different "brand" names to make them seem different. Its a nice pretend game that is fun to play and helps the  
advertising folks get along much better.]

Okay, now stay with me on this! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing - wider or narrower - the wagon wheels would break apart on the deeply rutted, very old roads that were used for long distance travel and hauling throughout  
England. So who built those roads with the oddly spaced ruts? Why it was Imperial Rome who built the first long distance roads in England 2,000 years ago (as well as throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa) so that  
their legions could move rapidly along in time of need - which by-the-way was most of the time. These were still the best roads available for wagon travel in England even until the 18th century.
Now you are catching on! And why the particular spacing for the deep ruts in the roads? Well Roman built these roads primarily for war chariots to travel along and the frequent movement of these chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else for the next 2,000 years had to match with  
their wagons for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Now since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike throughout the Roman Empire in the matter of wheel spacing . [We recently rediscovered standardization and called it the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We also recently rediscovered central heating which the Romans had 2,500 years ago . . . but that is another story.]
But how did the Romans arrive at the width of a war chariot? In contrast to the light, fast and flashy one-horse chariots that the aristocracts of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Persions zipped around the battlefield in looking good, the Romans built very heavy and sturdy and powerful chariots mainly as mobile platforms for archers to be brought in close to fire away at hapless foot soldiers. [We  
recently rediscovered this advantage when tanks were invented] These heavy chariots required TWO HORSES to pull them around with any speed and zest at all. Therefore the chariots were specified just wide enough to accommodate  
the BACK ENDS OF TWO ROMAN WAR HORSES.
So there you have it . . . the standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8 and one-half inches used throughout the entire railroad network in the USA is derived from the original specifications set for an Imperial Roman war chariot based on the width of the butts of two war horses. Bureaucracies truly live forever! So, the next time you are handed a standard specification and are told "we have always done it that way" and you wonder what horse's butt came up with that, you may be closer to the truth than you realize!

Butt . . . there is more . . .

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two very large booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs to those in the know. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in the mountains of Utah [Thiokol received  
extensive federal, state and county government subsidies for locating a plant in that out-of-the-way place - but we are not to think of it as welfare]. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter because this would have made them much more efficient in producing thrust per pound of fuel - a very important consideration in space travel. But wait, the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the subsidized factory in the mountains of Utah to the launch site in Florida. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through several tunnels cut through the  
mountains. So the engineers had to compromise fuel-to-thrust efficiency in order to reduce the diameter of the SRBs so that they would fit through those tunnels while bound to a railroad car. Of course these tunnels were made slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you  
now know, is twice as wide as a horse's butt. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced and sophisticated high-tech transportation system in the history of mankind was determined about two thousand years ago by a horse's butt. And you always  
thought being a horse's butt wasn't important??


Offline Don P

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Re: Railroads and Rocket Science
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2003, 06:30:39 PM »
Oops, I've said I have a great memory, its just short :-[.  I knew I had heard something along these lines before...seems I heard it here ::) :D. Well hope you all don't mind me hitting you over the head with it, I certainly enjoyed it...both times.

Offline Tom

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Re: Railroads and Rocket Science
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2003, 07:03:26 PM »
Hey!, me too.  It needed saying again.  I still find it amazing and humorous.  Still got a bet goin' withya.
extinct

Offline Jeff

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Re: Railroads and Rocket Science
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2003, 07:24:37 PM »
Yep, thats a good one. I have prited it off and taken it to people more then once. Wish I could remember it to tell it. People might think I was Cliff Claven. :)
Just call me the midget doctor.
Forestry Forum Founder and Chief Bottle Washer.

Commercial circle sawmill sawyer in a past life.

Offline dan-l-b

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Re: Railroads and Rocket Science
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2003, 05:25:43 AM »
Good for a chuckle Don P.   :D :D


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