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Too good not to share 
24th-Jun-2008 12:29 pm
land
compliments of my mother-in-law

Mom sent me the following in email.  Since the "original" has no attribution, I can't share it, either.

AN INTERESTING HISTORY LESSON
              Railroad tracks.

              This is rather fascinating.  Be sure to read the final paragraph.  Your understanding of it  will depend on the earlier part of the content.

              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 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 their 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 backside 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' backsides.) 

Now, the twist to the story: 

               When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad,there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

              The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had 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 SRBs 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 determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's butt.

              And you thought being a horse's butt wasn't important? Ancient horses'  butts control almost everything.

              ....And CURRENT horses' butts are controlling everything else....Any questions?
             
~Author Unknown
Comments 
24th-Jun-2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
The blood of my Irish ancestors is boiling at the claim that English expatriates built the railroads, considering how many Irish immigrants worked on those railroads!

(Snopes labeled these claism as false, by the way.)


Edited at 2008-06-24 05:49 pm (UTC)
24th-Jun-2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Well, Pooh.

You had to go spoil it for me, right? My MIL usually does not pass along unchecked stuff, so i didn't look this up. And I liked this.

All is not lost, however. The Snopes write up you link doesn't say it's completely hogwash. Rather, it is untrue in some details, but essentially true in statement, but the statement is unremarkable in and of itself - only the pun makes it work.

And it was for the pun that I spread it around.

Not only that, but Snopes also mentions the reason for keeping the measures the same because it was easier is that people change reluctantly, which is really the basic foundation for the joke on both the surface and pun level. So I contend that Snopes actually underlines what I found truthful about this.

This reminded me of the story of the roast beef recipe. Also, probably apocryphal but also essentially true.
24th-Jun-2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
That may or may not be entirely true. I've heard different stories as to the standard guage thing. But here's another interesting one... The length of a piece of rail (in the days before quarter mile welded ribbon rail) is 39 feet. Another odd number, yes. Why?
24th-Jun-2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Because it's divisible by 3? Which is a factor of 12? Which is the base of English distance measure?
28th-Jun-2008 12:52 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Hee, hee! It is because the length of the flat car at the time was 40 feet. They cut rails to 39 feet so they would fit on the flat car for transporting with six inches to spare at either end.

Neat, eh?
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