[Fwd: rail road ties]

breuche (breuche@dimacs.rutgers.edu)
Sat, 09 Nov 1996 15:55:00 -0500

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Hi All,

The attached is a sample of some of the stuff you can get from the math
history group (this is one I could understand). Anyway you can see what
the e-mail address is if you are interested in receiving news from them.

Ethel Breuche

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Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 19:56:34 -0500
From: mary r robinson <maryrobn@unm.edu>
To: math-history-list@maa.org
Subject: rail road ties
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I received this story from a colleague the other day. It was new to me
and I thought it might be interesting to other list members. Enjoy!

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

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

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 (Military Spec) for an Imperial Roman army war
chariot. Mil 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.