Herald Journal Columns
Feb. 11, 2002

The hysterical corporate mind

By LYNDA JENSEN

Here is something I stole from Jami, which he got from his Grandma Berg. Originally, it came from the Internet, but it is hilarious.

The corporate mind

Here is a look into the corporate mind that is very interesting, educational, historical, completely true, and hysterical all at the same time.

The US standard railroad gauge (width between the two 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 our railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did "they" use that gauge? 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? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for its legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman chariots first formed the initial ruts.

The US standard railroad gauge derives from the original specification for a Roman war chariot.

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's behind 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.

Thus, we have the answer to the original question.

Now the twist to the story.

When we see a space shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank, called SRBs.

The SRBs are made by Thiokol at its factory in Utah. The engineers might have preferred to the rockets a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train to the launch site.

The railroad line had to run through a tunnel in the mountains, which the SRBs had to fit through. The tunnel is slightly wider than the track, being about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined more than 2,000 years ago by the width of a horse's behind!

Busy in the loo

Incidentally, the Federal Trade Commission is asking for public input about the national "do not call" list for telemarketers.

Right now, lobby groups are hot and heavy with legislators ­ telling them it's their RIGHT to call us while we are eating, bathing, in the ladies' room, flossing our teeth, changing our kid's diapers . . .

The web site is www.ftc.gov for more information. There's a time limit, so don't put it off.


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