August 2009 Anglican Newsletter
Keith traces the standard raiway guage beack to the Romans and points out that Christians also find somewhat more important news from the same period.
The standard railroad gauge in the USA is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge established? Because that's the way they built them in England and it was expatriates from England who supervised the building of the US railways.
Why did England use that gauge? Because the first railways were built by the people who built the pre-railway age tramways and they had that gauge.
Why did they use that gauge? Because the builders of the tramways used the same jigs and tools that were used for building wagons, which had that wheel width.
Why did the wagons have such a strange width? Because they had to be able to run in the ruts, that were already in the long distance roads. A different wheel width would have led to shed loads and broken axles.
So who built those old rutted roads? The Romans built the long distance roads of Europe for their legions and they continued to be used through the centuries. The first ruts were formed by Imperial Roman chariots. Wagons then had to conform. So, US railroad gauge is what it is because the Romans set it for their war chariots. [Bureaucracies live for ever!]
In an American telling of this story, the next question is 'What horse's ass came up with that measurement?' The answer is that 4 feet, 8.5 inches is the width of two warhorses' asses.
There is a further twist to this, to bring us right up to the 20th and 21st centuries. When you see the Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two large booster rockets attached to the sides of the fuel tank. These are solid fuel boosters (SRBs), made by Thiokol in Utah. The engineers who designed them would have liked them to be fatter, but the SRBs have to be shipped by rail from the factory. The track from the factory happens to run through a tunnel through the mountains and the SRBs had to be designed to fit in the tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the rail track which is, as you know, two horses' asses wide.
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 ass.
If you find the foregoing a little tenuous, you should know that I cannot divulge the source of the information that I used, because at the bottom of the email it says (it does really say!) "Important: This email is the property of the Australian Defence Organisation and is subject to the jurisprudence of section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914. If you have received this email in error, you are requested to contact the sender and delete the email." The sender's email address was firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not just the railway gauge that emerges from the times of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Christians find somewhat more important news from that time and anyone who would like to share that with me or anyone else is very, very welcome to pick up the phone or send an email (don't use U-Tube or such like - I really am not remotely switched on enough).
Licensed Lay Minister