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- To: TIG <telecine at alegria.com>
- Subject: Specs
- From: "Wood, Paul" <SLADPWO at mis24.msmail.spe.sony.com>
- Date: Tue, 19 Aug 97 10:42:00 PDT
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- Resent-Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 10:44:17 -0700 (PDT)
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I thought we all might get a little chuckle over this as we examine why we
do some of the things we do in our industry. I'm sure that they all are for
very good reasons.
A friend in a very different industry sent this to me.
This may sound familiar to some of you.
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
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
Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. 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.
Professor Tom O'Hare
University of Texas at Austin
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