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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 question. 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.

Now the twist to the story....
There's an interesting extension of the story about railroad
gauge and horses' behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting
on the launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached
to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are the solid rocket
boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at a factory
in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might 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 to the factory runs through a tunnel in the
mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.
The tunnel is slightly wider than a railroad track, and the
railroad track is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So a
major design feature of what is arguably the world's most
advanced transportation system was determined by the width of a horse's Ass!

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