A Horses Ass

I found this story on another blog and since I’ve had a very difficult time at work with several horses asses it seemed fitting.

The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Sort of an odd number, but there’s a reason for it. That’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the first U.S. railroads.

But why like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad roads, and that’s the gauge they used. But why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the first roads used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

But why that particular 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 own 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 pamphlet and wonder “What horse’s ass came up with this?”, you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses (actually, two horses’ asses). Now, then, another 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 fuel rocket boosters (or, SRBs). The SRBs afre 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 truck, 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 couple of horses’ asses. And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horses’ asses control almost everything…..and current horse’s asses are controlling everything else.

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