IJMC - So What is the Width of a Warhorse?
Before reading this one, I thought the Pentagon had some old-fashioned
ideas! Well, they still do, but there are older ones... -dave
The US Standard Railroad Gauge Came To Be
How Military Specs Live Forever
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 ft 8 1/2
in (1.44 m). That's an exceedingly odd number.
Why is that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England,
and the US railroads were built by English ex patriots.
Why did the English build 'em 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 as they used for building wagons,
which used that wheel spacing.
OK! Why did the wagons use that 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 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 breaking their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the
chariots were made by or for Imperial Rome they were all alike in the
matter of wheel spacing (ruts again).
Thus we have the answer to the original question.
The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in derives from the
original military specification (MilSpec) for an Imperial Roman army war
chariot. MisSpecs (and bureaucracies) live forever!
A friend who is a medieval studies major and horsewoman points out that
the spacing of wheels on the Roman chariot was like as not dictated by the
width of the yoke that attached the chariot to the horse, and the need to
keep the wheel ruts well out of the path of the loose earth the hooves
Thus, the gauge of the Iron Horse might be in fact derived from the
width of the standard Roman warhorse.
- -- Comic thanks to W. Wasserman