virus: How Mil Specs Live Forever

David McFadzean (
Mon, 07 Oct 1996 12:21:36 -0600

An interesting example of propagation....


How Mil Specs Live Forever

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


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


Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. The United State

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.

Professor Tom O'Hare Germanic Lanuages

(512) 471-4123 University of Texas at Austin



David McFadzean

Memetic Engineer

Ideosphere Inc.