RE: [gardeners] In the garden (
Tue, 17 Nov 1998 10:19:26 -0500

At 09:54 AM 16-11-98 -0500, you wrote:
>I believe this is what you are looking for.  It is amazing how "Specs can
>Live Forever".
>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 for or by Imperial 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 for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. Specs and
>Bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification
>and wonder what horse's hind 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. 
>>  There was another good one. I was sure I saved it, spent an hour looking
>> for it in my old mail, but I can't find it.
>>  It was a history lesson in just a long paragragh, but it spanned over 2
>> millenia. It started with "why are the rails on a train spaced the
>> distance
>> they are?" It went back to include the Roman roads, the average distance
>> of
>> wheels on a cart, the approximate distance of several men walking abreast,
>> etc.
>> It was fascinating! If anyone is familiar with it, please let me know
>> where
>> I can find a copy of it.
>> Have fun and stay warm
>> Matt
>> Matt Trahan  <> or <>
>> USDA zone 8, AHS heat zone 7, Sunset zone 31, northeastern N.C.

This was a major discussion on Classics, Romarch, Latin-L and a couple
other ancient studies lists.  It is widely disputed and may simply be an
apocryphal story turned urban legend.  I don't know what the latest word is
but I am sure you can find it on the archives of especially Classics and
Romarch.  Use hotbot, lycos or one of the many search engines out there.
Dogpile will probably get you everything ever written about it.