Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

This came in from Michael Bray:

History Trivia, why railroad gauge is what it is and the impact of this choice.

And this is especially true about the government.

Fun to read and you’ll learn something you never knew. I’ll bet you never even thought about this.

The U.S. 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 English expatriates designed the U.S. Railroads. Why did the English 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


Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So, who built those old rutted roads?

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels.

Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

In other words, bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification, procedure, or process, and wonder, “What horse’s rear came up with this?”, you might be exactly right.

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

Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, you will notice that there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit larger, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over 2,000 years ago by the width of a horse’s behind.

And you thought being a horse’s behind wasn’t important!

Now you know! Horses’ asses control almost everything!

See you at the polls!!

Michael Bray

EXIT West Realty

299 Shadow Mountain Dr.

El Paso, TX  79912

(915) 549-1770




6 Responses to Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

  1. Y Que! says:

    Unfortunately, this story is false. It’s one that has been around for years.

    NIce try.


    • Thank you sir/madam for your thoughtful but misguided comment.

      Perhaps my post would have been more effective had I used a Sarcasm font instead of Arial.


      • Casual Observer says:

        Your response to Y Que! was a bit harsh, especially the part about his comment being “misguided.” Y Que! made a legitimate point that was helpful to readers who might not have known that your unattributed, cut-and-paste post was historically inaccurate. Nothing in your post suggested that your intent was “sarcasm.”


        • That is kinda the point behind sarcasm. Sorry you both missed it.

          As to my “cut-and-paste post”, apparently neither of you thoroughly read the cut-and-paste(d) article posted by the venerable folks at Snopes. Apparently there is some possible basis in history, according to that article. But that is not germane to the point behind the original post.

          See how easy it is to pick apart any commentary to the point of ridiculousness? Going down this endless path of repartee adds nothing of value to this blog which I find generally contains thought-provoking commentary of a much higher order.

          Peace be with you.


  2. Reality Checker says:

    The city hasn’t even completed the Brio and trolley car boondoggles, which are costing tens of millions of dollars, and already Niland and Svarzbein want to spend big bucks to extend the trolley service across the border into Mexico just because it was done decades ago. What’s a few more million dollars, right?

    Niland thinks building more stuff is great, especially if you can get some of the funding from other sources. She forgets that it still costs money to operate and maintain the stuff you build. Money-losing Brio is a perfect example.


  3. Jerry K says:

    We visited friends in the UK midlands and behind their 300 year old home was what looked like a railroad bed or hiking path, straight as an arrow. It had a stone surface with two ruts in it – the old Roman road from Londinium as it was known 2,000 years ago – still there.

    Aren’t you glad that it morphed into railroads and not motor cars?


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