Why American Railroad Ties Are THIS Far Apart.
or ... how standards are created

OK, so hold your hands out about as far apart as you can get them and tell the following story.

Why are American railroad ties THIS far apart? Well, it's because they were designed and built by the folks who built wooden horse-drawn coaches at the time back when railroads were invented. Early railroad cars were even CALLED "coaches". But WHY did the coach designers make the coach wheels exactly THIS far apart (you have to keep doing that thing with your hands to give the story the full impact)? It was because they were trained in England.

Uh, well ... that doesn't quite answer it. Why did the coach makers in England put their coach wheels THIS far apart? Ah, now that one has a really good solid answer. They did it because in England at the time, there were no paved roads (remember, cars hadn't even been THOUGHT of yet), just dirt paths that were basically parallel ruts and the ruts were THIS far apart and if you didn't make the coach wheels THIS far apart, the coach would shake itself to pieces in short order, greatly displeasing the passengers and ultimately resulting in loss of jobs for the coach builders. Good answer huh?

Yeah, OK, but why were the damned RUTS exactly THIS far apart? Well, now we're beginning to hone in on the root cause. The ruts were THIS far apart because 2000 years ago, England (or whatever it was called at the time) was invaded by the Romans, who among other things, used to communicate between their various forts and enclaves by sending messengers in fast war charriots. Sort of an early Pony Express, if you will, and the ruts they made became the standard rut size. AND ... now here's where we get down to it (almost). The war chariots wheels were, and this is going to come as NO surprize at all, THIS far apart.

Almost there. WHY, you ask in mounting annoyance and frustration at how long it is taking to get to the end of this shaggy dog story, were the war chariots' wheels THIS far apart? OK, here's the end of it (pun intended) ... the war chariots' wheels were THIS far apart to exactly accomodate the rear ends of two side-by-side Roman war horses.

So to make a long story (yes, it was, wasn't it) short, as bizzare as it sounds, American railroad ties are THIS far apart in order to accomodate the rear ends of two Roman war horses.

And the moral of the story is that if someone tells you that they think "standards" are set by a bunch of horse's asses, you can tell them that they don't know how right they are.

The Hobbit