WHO wrote those specs? [humor] (fwd)

Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton lkcl at samba.org
Thu Dec 16 19:37:29 GMT 1999

i thought this was appropriate given the recent discussions.

How Specs Live Forever
(16 December 1999)

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 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 a**
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. 

More information about the samba-technical mailing list