Next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s rear came up with it
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 made by 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 (Military Spec) for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.
Military Specs and Bureaucracies live forever!
So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s rear end 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.
I am not sure who wrote the preceding. I am not sure it is totally true and probably is not. I didn’t not verify measurements, gauges or history because folks