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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 (Military Spec) for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.
MilSpecs and Bureaucracies live forever.
So, 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
chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of
two war horses.