Ever wonder why things are screwed up?

While this story does not relate directly to audio, a undeniable example of the importance of a horse's ass and the role of specifications.


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" 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 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.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies live forever.

The next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Which leads us up to today, the space age.

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 at 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. 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 two thousand years
ago by the width of a horse's ass.
128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xalbertporter
Hilarious outlook on history and how decisions are made. Also goes to show how "traditions" are hard to break free of even if something is "newer and better" but doesn't conform to "old school" standards. Sean
It seems to me that more decisions are based on horses asses than actual intelligent thought. Ever wonder how that factors in to what you're listening to right now?
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Thanks, Albert. Got a good laugh out of it. Sure does put things in perspective.
The key word is your 'girlfriend' they seem normal at first then prove to be odd as can be! take my word there are no normal women, just less odd ones, and that is all you can hope for. ~Tim
That was good, thanks. I guess those early chariot drivers had those bumper stickers that said, "As a matter of fact, I do own the road."
oddness goes hand with intellegnce. now, craziness, that's another game altogether,

Nrchy had it right, but with the wrong emphasis. It should have been it's quite amazing how many different things over time have been determined by horses asses? Great story Albert!!!
Albert, we nominate you as the James Burke of Audiogon. Great work, brother!

Is that why audio equipment is spaced at 19" for rack mounting??? Thats 1/2 a horses butt.Cheers.
Albert, I hope you don't mind, but I've taken liberty to cut and paste your message (without associating your name to it, nor taking credit for it myself) and sent it a goodly portion of my mailing list. Well done, sir!
Although this story is not exactly in the same vein as Albert's I'd like to offer it as an example of everyday insanity from working life,sometimes when I think of this story it's seems even funnier than when it first happened,it is 100% true and probably is repeated worldwide on a daily basis in different forms.
It's a bit long winded but...........

I work as a manager in a large chemical plant,I used to work in an older plant a few years back,breakdowns were commonplace and part of my responsibilities was organising repairs.
There's always been a large political devide between engineering and production,what goes with that is a long history of mistrust and lack of respect for each others roles,needless to say the engineering staff thought production were on the whole pretty dumb and by definition I was not much further up the totem pole than my production operators especially since I had the combination of being reasonably young and pretty new in this role.

Also as a member of shift production in general our own day shift managers tended to look down on us.
The history of this annoyed me, as a logical kind of guy I thought we were all working for the same goal.

Anyway at the start of shift one morning I arrived to discover on of our lines were down,I prepared the permit for the job and soon the problem was discovered to be a large industrial magnet-about 8 inches high.
As I watched through a window I saw a bigger and bigger delegation of engineers and my own superiors gather to look at this magnet which had been brought up as evidence to prove production shift incompetence.
The magnet had clearly been damaged,it had score marks.
Soon strips were being tore off production.
"It's been forced in" remarked the engineering manager.
"Complete morons" remarked the plant manager "why do we play these guys £18k a year?"
On and on it went,some of our magnets were handed and by definition could only fit in a certain way-it was designed to interlock but only in one direction.
Although the magnet had been buckled the main damage had been done to it's housing which needed to be replaced.
Clearly it was the repetition of forcing that had caused the housing to eventually fail.

This tirade of scorn went on and on,and on.
It was again clear that I was managing a bunch of morons and not doing a very good job at that.
I was bored and annoyed,I took the magnet to be cleaned and refitted.

Eventually I tracked down two of my team and asked one of them to refit the magnet, I was so exasperated I could hardly speak "Pat,get this magnet back into slurry unit 7 would you?" he duly left to fit the thing.
About half an hour later I checked my computer screen and saw the line was back up and running,good I thought ........

Leaving for lunch I popped my head into my team's canteen...
Several faces peered up at me.

"Ben what was wrong with that magnet?" Pat,the guy who refitted it asked.

"Pat it's a long story,too painful to go into,why do you ask?" I replied.

"Well" he said "it's just that I had to knock the fu*& out of it with a scaffolding pole to get it back in"........................................

As Homer Simpson said "it's funny cause it's true".
More amazingly we are are number one in the world at what we do
Since we're totally off audiophile topics, I'll share a story of equal absurdity to Ben's tale.

A few years ago, I allowed my driving license to expire by a couple of days. I went to the office, passed my renewal test, was assessed a small fine for the delinquency, had my picture taken and went to pay for my new license. The state at that time did not accept credit/debit cards, only checks or cash. The clerk refused to accept any form of identification for my check other than a driving license. I said to her, "Well, there it is, coming out of the laminating machine, use it."

"I can't, sir, you haven't paid for it yet."

"Well then, use my old one."

"I can't, sir, it has expired."

"Would you call your supervisor, please?"

The supervisor arrived, a large, untidy, redneck woman with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She listened to explanations then turned to the clerk and remarked, "Ethel, you a goddam idiot!" (sic)

She took my check, handed me the new license, and sent me on my way.

Let's hear it for the State of Florida Division of Motor Vehicles.

Bishopwell, your story reminds me of a story I heard about someone who used a new credit card that he had fogotten to sign the back of.

The clerk took his card without checking the back for his signature.

She then ran it through the credit card machine and had him sign the receipt that was printed out.

As she was handing back his credit card, she remembered to turn it over and look for his signature.

Not seeing his signature, she asked him to sign the card.

She then compared his signature on the receipt to his signature on the card, and viola, they matched!

"Thank you, sir - have a good day" were her next words.
I recently bought a house in a different state. The new state was concerned because they had no tax returns on file from me. So, they made up three back years worth of taxes, with a net due amount of $0. I have my attorney send in my previous tax forms from my privious state of residence with a letter of explanation. In the mean time I begin recieving letters offering me amnesty for back taxes. I call the number and ask what I owe. The response "$0, never mind the letter, just forget about it". The letters keep coming, I keep calling back and keep getting the same response. A couple of days ago I get a letter, with a bill for $638.33 indicating that a collection agency has been hired to collect my back taxes with interest and penalties for failing to respond. I should have folowed my instincts and sent them a check for $0. Why is it when ever bureaucracies decide to reinvent the wheel, the wheel goes round and round yet never goes anywhere, then stops with a flat that appears to be by design.
Railroads aren't 4ft something wide....
at least not in the US... but it's a nice story anyhow.

It does illustrate what goes wrong with big old organizations that require compatibility back to the year one. Like IBM, and Microsoft (will if they keep it up) eventually will end up that way... maybe that's just how things always go? Hmmmm...
Bear, this was only posted as fun, but since you challenged the data, please visit the US Government EPA site to review data I have cut and pasted below.

( Contents )

Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 1999
EPA’s Data Standards Process–All Aboard

Before the U.S. had a standard railroad track gauge, there were many problems. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act.

The construction of the transcontinental railway spurred the nation's railroads to cooperatively set a U.S.standard gauge railroad track at 4 feet 8.5 inches.

Site link follows:

It's hard to imagine a massive railroad engine on a 4 foot-something track, but it's true. (Brings to mind the image of Homer riding the tricycle in order to save his hide from the mobsters.) I had to measure some nearbye tracks for a site plan and my estimation prior to physically measuring the tracks was around 7 feet. I was astonished when it actually measured 1.45M (4' - 8 1/2").
Ok, I have to drive over some Conrail tracks later today. I will be measuring. :- )

Ok - after spending almost 25 years in the Railroad industry (specifically track related Engineering) I can assure you that standard gauge is in fact 56.5". Thats not to say that there isn't a level of tolerance that is allowed for as a result of numerous issues so one can measure center to center and find out its not quite up to snuff.

There are a few transit systems within the US that are of a different gauge - BART for one I believe.

Without reviewing each msg so excuse me if I am repeating this...I will add that the Soviet Union had at one time (and may still have) a different gauge from that of the rest of Europe. This negated other countries having the ability to use their own rolling stock to enter the Soviet territory with the intent to attack and take over...
Bear, if you go over the tracks slow enough with your foot dragging from the car ( use your left foot and not your right ), you will be able to feel the "bumps". By doing this, you can "guesstimate" the distance. This will save you the trouble of having to stop the vehicle and get out and measure anything : ) Sean
Bear, you are on the right "track," with both your measurements and your personality.
Just another bit of useless information: Rgd is right, if you travel from western Europe to Russia, you have to change trains because they are not compatible. Even stranger: if you travel from Holland to Germany they have to change the locomotives at the border because they use different voltages...
Hard to believe, but somehow certain pillars of the Audiogon community seem to have been duped by an Internet Hoax--and not a very recent one at that!

Folks like Albertporter, Bishopwill, and Sean, known for their many sober, thoughtful, well-informed and intelligent contributions, have somehow fallen for this one hook, line and sinker. Sean, at least, has a decent excuse: his critical faculties seem to have suffered as a result of excessive exposure to Mico$oft products (sorry, couldn't resist). The rest will have to provide their own excuses.

Fortunately, there is a bright side to this otherwise tawdry incident. Apparently the Audiogon bylaws (which explicitly prohibit the propagation of Internet Hoaxes and Urban Legends) require that Albert forfeit his system to me (yes, ALL of it--and if you don't believe me, check with cornfedboy).

The curious and/or dubious can confirm the hoax at such sites as TruthOrFiction.com (http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/railwidth.htm) and at Railway.org where can be found the exhaustive treatment (written in mid-2000 fer chrissakes!) entitled "Railroad Gauge: The Evolution of Railroad Standard Gauge or, Roman Chariots + Railroad Standards = Horse Poop" (http://www.railway.org/railroadgauge.htm).

Oh, and that story you heard from the guy in the bar (you know, the one who swore it actually happened to a friend of a friend of his) about the dude who went to Bangkok, went out drinking and woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing--that one's not true either!
This amusing and distant topic from the subject of audio was a much needed break. If you are concerned with the seriousness of this story, I would advise you to completely avoid the topic: "Study finds your Amplifier reveal your personality"

Your reluctance to admit culpability and forfeit your most impressive system is entirely understandable, but claiming your post was merely a "much needed," off-topic "break" simply won't cut it! I have absolutely no problem with off-topic (or even flat-out irrelevant) posts. The problem is that this story, amusing and charming as it may be, is a total fiction!

I am not an unreasonable person, though, and since my current dwelling would be inadequate to accommodate your fantastic system, it will probably be at least a couple of months before I can relocate to suitable digs. By that time, you will have no doubt discovered all the minor deficiencies that had previously escaped your attention, and will be ready to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.

Seen in this light, I'm sure you'll eventually come to realize that I'm actually doing you a huge favor--something I’m more than happy to do for such a distinguished ‘Goner!
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Oh My gosh Viridian. I used that data on a job application and in the disclosure sheet to refinance my home!

I guess I am screwed (so to speak).
Maybe not just yet (screwed, that is), but if your next post is about how Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and their ilk actually amassed their fortunes peddling condoms, and hence were originally known as "Rubber Barons," I will be forced to immediately dispatch "Vinny," my business associate, to pick up that system at your condom-inium! But by promising not to promulgate any further internet hoaxes, this unpleasant situation can be completely prevented --your promise could then be considered a prophylactic!
I just rode a train at an historic site & the spiel the conductor told was the Roman Chariot tale. It's more entertaining than the other version.
The connection between DVD-A/SACD format wars and pterodactyl chick birth order is far more relevant.
Sounds like Terry Pratchetts DISC WORLD novels.

Just like this world??
Sort of

Just for fun (and this one's real)... when you travel by rail from China to Mongolia, at the Mongolian border there is a "brief" stop of several hours. Why? They run the train into a warehouse, jack the cars up several feet, roll the trucks out, run another set in on a slightly different gauge, and then let the cars back down on the trucks. The story told is that the Chinese specifically made their gauge different than the one the Russians used in order to make invasion more difficult. Whether for the same reason or not, French and Spanish gauges are different and one is obliged to change trains near the border when going long haul between countries.

Never learned so much in so little time?? Does this include those nuggets of received wisdom we all carry around, ready to cite at the drop of a hat, such as: we use only 10% of our brains; you must drink 8 glasses of water per day to stay healthy; 80% of our body heat is lost through our heads; ice-cubes freeze faster if you make them with hot water; or if you put enough monkeys with typewriters in a room they will eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare? And since this is an audiophile site, we can add: Bose makes the best sound systems available--anything more expensive is just a waste of money!

Please see my post from 7-30-02 (above) or check out this link: Railroad Gauge: The Evolution of Railroad Standard Gauge or, Roman Chariots + Railroad Standards = Horse Poop and let us know what you think.
No, I'm afraid it doesn't go that deep. And please, stop with the puns! it Hertz!

@ben_campbell - Recognizing that this thread has been dead for two decades, I stumbled upon it today and think that I can add to the mind boggling stories.

The place that I work is a very large business.  One of the core databases that we use requires us to create individual jobs that include individual fields to be filled out for a variety of different purposes.  In the past we could make nearly as many changes as we wanted before saving at the risk of losing some work if something unexpected happened.  This program was recently replaced with a new web-based version and the new version runs much slower.  We have actually documented the new version have more latency in it than it took to complete the entire task with the legacy version.  Yesterday, one of my employees documented that using a less efficient workflow actually resulted in a more efficient overall process. Instead of complete the 44 individual changes in sequence which took 11 minutes, she instead closed the working window after each 10 changes which allowed her to complete the task in 7 minutes.  We literally have a program that forces us to hit save after every single change before moving to another cell and also has no cache so you can literally click back and forth all day between two cells and the latency will be the same, yet it somehow clogs itself up if you do to many individual changes all on a row.  Keep in mind that before a recent update the task took 18 minutes and in the legacy version we estimate that it would have taken 3 minutes.  It's a painful time!