Author Topic: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...  (Read 1416 times)

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Offline HowardH

  • Posts: 1100
I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« on: May 23, 2008, 10:28 AM »
something fun and interesting for the group!

Railroad tracks. This is fascinating.
 
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 built 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' us e 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 (and England) for their legions. The 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. Bureaucracies live forever.
 
So the next time you are handed a Specification/Procedure/Process and wonder 'What horse's  came up with it?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses.) 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 SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's h ad 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 SRB's 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 two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's . And you thought being a horse's  wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything... and CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else
Howard H
The Dallas Texas Festool Fanatic!

Mark Twain:  "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a letter approving of it." "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."

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Offline jonny round boy

  • Posts: 3224
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2008, 11:19 AM »
Howard,

That's cool, and quite funny.

As an aside, most states in the US originally had different gauges, ranging from 4' up to 6'. Most deliberately avoided using 4' 8 1/2", purely because that was what the British used, and they hated the British!

Eventually, they were all standardised at 4' 8 1/2" because us Brits had already covered half the world with that gauge, and they figured they had to match it to compete economically.

For example, most railroads in the southern US states had a gauge of 5' (60 inches) until 1886, when the entire railway network hired tens of thousands of labourers to lift every single rail on one side, and re-lay them 3" closer to the other rail (4' 9" was considered "close enough"). I think they converted every inch of track in the whole of the south in something rediculous like 3 or 4 days! Imagine trying to organise something on that scale nowadays!!!
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Offline iggy07

  • Posts: 77
  • Hillsboro, Oregon (NW USA)
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2008, 11:26 AM »
Not nearly as intriguing, but did you also know that the world-wide organization of time zones was developed by the railroads, first in
England, later in the U.S.

As trains started running cross-country, 'local times' were based on sundial noon. At first, the times changed as trains moved east-west through one town after another. To coordinate their clocks, each railroad adopted its own time, usually based on the city in which their headquarters were located. Many stations had multiple clocks to indicate different RR's times. Apparently Philadelphia had six different clocks!

Ever wondered about the irregular borders for some of the time zones?  When first established, the borders ran through railroad stations, often in major cities. For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Charleston.

(Nothing to do with woodworking . . .  ;D )
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Offline Steve Jones

  • Posts: 405
  • Austin, TX US
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2008, 11:51 AM »
England is not wide enough to have time zones, they were developed for the British Royal Navy (which DO move through multiple time zones), in fact they are all still based on the mean time at Greenwich, Specifically the British naval observatory there.  Did you ever hear of "GMT" or "Greenwich Mean Time" (Pronounced grenitch btw), When you set your local time zone on your computer, you are setting that time based on it's offset from GMT.

Steve Jones

AdapTableTool, Inc.
adaptabletool@gmail.com

Offline jonny round boy

  • Posts: 3224
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2008, 12:42 PM »
England is not wide enough to have time zones


True, but it was the GWR (Great Western Railway) that first standardised time. That's because the difference between exact noon in Bristol (the headquarters of the GWR) and noon in London (the capital, where a lot of the express trains ran to) was about 12 minutes, which as the trains grew faster became more and more of a problem with writing the timetables, so they had to create a 'Railway Standard Time'.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2008, 12:43 PM by jonny round boy »
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Offline jonny round boy

  • Posts: 3224
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2008, 03:03 PM »
Oh, and by the way...

IT'S NOT TRUE

 :P ;D
Festoolian since February 2006

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Offline vkumar

  • Posts: 326
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2008, 12:43 AM »
Strange as it may seem, the railway gauge used in India (built by the Brits) is called Broad Gauge and is 5' 6 "

And the San Francisco BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) also uses the same gauge.

Vijay
« Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 08:46 AM by vkumar »
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Offline Jesse Cloud

  • Posts: 1704
  • Festooling at the end of a dirt road in New Mexico
Re: I'll bet you didn't know this about railroads...
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2008, 01:19 PM »

As an aside, most states in the US originally had different gauges, ranging from 4' up to 6'. Most deliberately avoided using 4' 8 1/2", purely because that was what the British used, and they hated the British!

LOL!

Reminds me of a story.  I used to work for a Brit.  Our jobs required security clearances.  One of the questions on the forms was "Have you ever belonged to an organization that advocated the violent overthrow of the United States."

My boss would dutifully answer, 'Yes, the British Royal Navy.  We burned down the White House in 1812!"

I was continually amazed that he got his clearances with no trouble, I'm sure he caused some bureaucrats great grief in dealing with the answer. :D