Many Americans are not aware that the standard railroad gauge in the U.S. (the distance between the two metal rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Why the heck did our government leaders ever establish such an odd size for spacing the tracks when building our nation’s first rail lines?
Well, that is because, when our government and business leaders decided to construct our first rail system, they relied mainly on British expatriates to build them. These English tradesmen were the same individuals who designed and built the British railways and they built our railroads the only way they knew how.
In order to encourage greater trade and commerce the British government adopted 4 foot 8.5 inches as its standard rail gauge throughout the U.K. That was because a wheel spacing of 4 feet, 8.5 inches was needed to match the distance between all the ruts in English roads. If the wagons or carts of British merchants had wheel spacing’s greater than 4 feet 8.5 inches, their axles would likely break while traveling down the roads.
Wait a minute Gabe! Where did those ruts come from? Those ruts in the English roads were made by the Imperial Roman Army when Rome invaded England in 25 BC. The Romans brought with them war chariots and Caesar had decreed all Imperial War Chariots be drawn by two horses which he believed would intimidate Rome’s enemies.
To comply with Caesar’s order for two-horse chariots, Roman engineers calculated 4 feet, 8.5 inches as the ideal distance to space chariot wheels that were pulled by two horses. Therefore, if the British government wanted to continue to use all those wonderful roads the Romans built, it too had to accept a standard wheel spacing of 4 feet, 8.5 inches.
Years later when the British Parliament funded the first railroads, they called upon the craftsmen who, for years, had built and maintained their highways and tram systems. Those craftsmen only had tools and jigs to construct wheel spacing systems of 4 feet, 8.5 inches.
Now it might be hard to believe, but you have figured it out. The standard U.S. railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches was actually based on an ancient Roman decision to require chariots to accommodate two horses side by side. Nineteen hundred years later, the British Government perpetuated this 4 feet, 8.5 inch standard so it could ensure economic development throughout the kingdom.
So now you are asking what does all this ancient Roman War Chariot stuff and British trade stuff have to do with the decisions made in modern day government and business. Well, get ready, the moral of this story will be crucial for your career.
You may have watched a news program and saw a NASA Space Shuttle sitting on a launch pad in Florida. If you recall, there were two rockets attached to the sides of every space shuttle. Those rockets were what NASA referred to as solid rocket boosters, or SRB’s. The lowest bidder on the contract for the SRB’s was the Thiokol Corporation based in Utah.
NASA’s engineers had envisioned much larger SRB’s for the shuttle, but a major transportation problem was discovered. You see, the SRB’s built in Utah had to be shipped by train to the launch pads in Florida. All rail routes from Utah to Florida run through mountains. The mountains have rail tunnels and the SRB’s had to be able to fit through those tunnels.
Railroad tunnels, you might surmise, are slightly wider than the railroad tracks, and railroad tracks in America, as you now know, are 4 feet, 8.5 inches, or about as wide as two horses standing side by side.
Consequently, the US Space Shuttle program in place during the late 20th century and early years of the 21st century had to have significant components re-designs to meet mandates imposed by the Imperial Roman Government over two thousand years ago and later enforced by the British Government in the late 19th century.
The two important lessons we can all learn from this saga are:
1) Be extremely careful when you make a decision for your organization. The decisions you make today could have long-lasting consequences.
2) Whenever you participate in budget, policy or goal planning sessions, never ever, under any circumstances, agree to accept a budget, a policy or goal just to accommodate a couple of horses’ asses who are in the meeting. If you do — the odds are overwhelming that those budgets, policies and goals you adopt will come back to haunt your organizations later on down the road.
If you found this lesson of value I sure would appreciate your feedback