Joke 788

20 May
Train tracks, taken from a moving train.

Train tracks, taken from a moving train. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a little ruder than I usually post, but it’s too good not to share.  Thanks to my friend Cliff for forwarding 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 English expatriates designed the US 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 had 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. 

Illustration for the topic of bureacracy. The ...

Illustration for the topic of bureacracy. The form is fictional. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’ you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses i.e. two horses’ asses. 

Deutsch: Space Shuttle "Enterprise" ...

Space Shuttle “Enterprise” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, 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 fatter, 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. 

English: The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS...

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., carries astronauts John Young and into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything.

And current horses’ asses in Washington, London, and Europe are controlling everything else!



21 Responses to “Joke 788”

  1. May 20, 2013 at 04:21 #

    And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything.

    And current horses’ asses in Washington, London, and Europe are controlling everything else!



  2. slpmartin May 20, 2013 at 05:37 #

    What a fascinating bit of history…had to smile…somethings have such interesting logic behind them.


  3. Three Well Beings May 20, 2013 at 05:43 #

    You have a wonderful grasp of history as well as you can sure call it regarding the current political climate–everywhere!


  4. viv blake May 20, 2013 at 07:26 #

    Great logic, specially the payoff line I suppose UK’s older narrow gauge railways were based on the packhorse roads, the width of one hors’s ass.


  5. benzeknees May 20, 2013 at 08:14 #

    This was priceless & I loved it!


  6. Grannymar May 20, 2013 at 08:26 #

    So thanks to some ancient horse’s asses , we have modern technology! 😉


  7. viveka May 20, 2013 at 12:48 #

    Great … I know some horse’s asses … too and they live in Sweden, a splendid post.


  8. mairedubhtx May 20, 2013 at 12:59 #

    Loved this story!


  9. Janie Jones May 20, 2013 at 14:47 #



  10. sheilamariegrimes May 20, 2013 at 17:01 #



  11. Hattie May 20, 2013 at 19:12 #

    My cousin just took a trip around Turkey and could not get over all the Roman ruins. “When the Romans had all this, what happened to them?” she wondered. Well, now we know. Only the horses’ asses survived.


  12. Lily Mugford May 20, 2013 at 21:04 #

    Priceless information I didn’t kow I needed, but now I have it … um… well it is a good laugh so thanks.,


  13. SchmidleysScribbling May 20, 2013 at 21:09 #

    This is a really funny story but does not explain why track gauge differed across the US before the Civil War. Also the RR gauge differed across Europe when WWI began, and as far as I know the Romans built roads all over Europe.

    (David and I love RR trivia. David’s Dad worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad in NC for 50 years, and served with the US Expeditionary Forces guarding the TransSiberian RR during WWI; David also began his career with the ACR. My grandfather and gr-grandfather served with the Chicago Northwestern RR.)

    For more information on track gauge, I refer you to: Wiki.


  14. colonialist May 22, 2013 at 12:22 #

    I do hope this is largely based on fact. If so, it is simply wonderful!


I welcome your comments but be warned: I'm menopausal and as likely to snarl as smile. Wine or Maltesers are an acceptable bribe; or a compliment about my youthful looks and cheery disposition will do in a pinch.

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