Specifications Live Forever.

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This was emailed to me from a 'brave coward' wanting me to send a copy of the following to one of the 'powers that be' at a company I was contracted.

The company was trying to implement some ... well ... questionable standards, that would effect the way things were done and just as bad, not done, at the company for years to come. Of course, the 'powers that be' said that anything that does not work out can be amended later. The problem with that logic is once rules or 'standards' are put into place they are rarely changed.

Just how long can a 'standard' remain in effect ... this one has been around for 2,000+ years (that is not a misprint ... TWO THOUSAND plus years is correct).

Allow me to explain:

(I do not know who the original author was.
I have modified it slightly, mostly, to clean up some of the language
and to make the logic 'flow' a little better. To the best of my knowledge, all statements are factual.)

The US Standard railroad gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches.
(This also applies to the wheel base of many cars & trucks.)

This is an extremely odd length. Why would such an odd distance for a gauge be used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and the railroads which were supplemented by the US government were built by English expatriates.

So 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.

How nice. So, why did "they" use that gauge?

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?

If they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on many of the old, long distance roads, because 4 feet, 8.5 inches was the spacing to the center 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. Many of 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. The chariots were made for, or by, Imperial Rome, since the design was standardized all the chariots were alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

And the chariot was made that size because?

Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the rear-ends of two war horses.


The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from a couple of "horses' rears" that decided the specification for the wheel spacing of an Imperial Roman army war chariot ... 2000+ years ago.

And there is only one conclusion left to be said:

Be careful, my friend, of what standards you suggest & approve for
Specifications and Bureaucracies Live Forever.

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Page last modified: 7/20/01 7:46:36 PM