How specs live forever

Dan Kohn (
Mon, 21 Oct 1996 01:23:58 -0700

>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
> 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.