4 feet, 8.5 inches – Why Not Change?
The standard gauge of North American railroad beds is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly unusual dimension. Why in the world would our entire railroad system have such an unusual specification? Why not four feet, or a nice even five feet? Essentially, why not change? The truth is, our railroads are based on the railroads in England, because US railroads were originally built by English expatriates.
But then, why did the English use such an odd measurement? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the tramways, which preceded railroads, and that’s the gauge they used. So, why did the tramway builders use that gauge? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for centuries to build horse drawn wagons which used that wheel spacing.
Do as the Romans
So, why did the wagons have such odd measurements for their wheel spacing? Largely because if someone came along one day and built a wagon with non-conforming dimensions the wheels would break on the old, long distance dirt roads in England that were deeply rutted from years of use.
Now you’re forced to ask, “so who built those old rutted roads?” We’re getting close. They were built by Roman soldiers. And the ruts? Roman war chariots actually formed the initial ruts, to which everyone else had to conform or risk destroying their wagons.
Roman chariots were made to a “standard” and their wheel spacing was in fact 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Thus, the United States standard 2,000 years later is a ridiculous 4 feet, 8.5 inches, the same as a Roman chariot.
A Real Horse’s Derriere
So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s derriere came up with it, your initial reaction might be right, because the Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to match the width of the back ends of two horses. So now you have the answer to the original question, which you can use to impress strangers at your next cocktail party.
Solid Rocket Boosters
Let’s fast forward to the space age. Before launch, the Space Shuttle has two engines attached to either side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters known as SRBs. They’re made by Thiokol in Utah and the design team originally wanted to make them much larger, but there was a problem.
The SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory in Utah to the launch site in Florida. The railway ran through several tunnels in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through those tunnels. The tunnels are slightly wider than the railroad track, and, as you know, the width of the rail bed is equal to two horses’ behinds.
Avatar Means Change
So, the most advanced vehicle in the history of mankind was actually determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s derriere. And you wonder why change is so difficult? Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. But, only if you let them. If you’re happy with the results you’re getting today, it would be a waste of time to call us. Avatar means change. However, if you’d like to make your business outcomes better, please give us a call. We promise not to base the design on a horse’s hind end.