Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gauging a Railroad

Our good friend Ludwig down in Georgia asked why the width of US railroads is such a strange number. Definitely 4 feet 8.5 inches is odd at first look. There have been lots of pseudo answers to this question. I found the most common on the Internet at Yahoo. Answers.

" This story is a "We've always done it that way" tale. It says that the standard distance between railroad rails in the U.S. is four-feet, eight-and-a-half inches. Why? Because that's what it was in England. Why? Because that's the gauge the tramways used before the railroads. Why? Because the tramways were built using the same tools as wagon-builders and that's how wide the wagon wheels were spaced. Why? Because the old roads in England had ruts that the wheels needed to accommodate. Why? Because the ruts were made by Imperial Roman chariots.

Or the simple answer of " the width of two war horses asses" which is not always a good explanation in mixed company or around teen agers (insert lots of giggles here).

BUT history of the US railroads shows that from the beginning of railroading until after the Civil War the width between the rails varied between railroads. This of course made shipment of goods really difficult. Interchanging between railroads ment unloading the goods and then reloading them. Today with standard gauges, rail cars are simply 'interchanged' between railroads.

Sometime after the Civil War the US Government finally decided to standardize the 'gauge' of US railroads to the present 4'8.5".

BUT that is just main line railroads. At the Baltimore Streetcar Museum we learned that their 'gauge' is a little different and for a reason. The story that they tell is that railroads we're notorious for sneaking onto other folks right of way in the past. If you have ever been to Baltimore, especially in the Fells Point district, you know that there are tracks in the streets all over the place. Some railroad, and some streetcar. The City decided that to stop the railroads from using the streetcar tracks they would make the gauge 5 feet.

AND mining and logging railroads are usually a 'narrow gauge' since the tracks are easier to lay and most times are only temporary.

Of course the standard size of a modern day chariot is far different.




DeniseinVA said...

That was a very enjoyable and interesting post. I had heard the story of the ruts by the roman chariots before but not told with such great humor. That first story didn't even crack a smile but yours did along with a chuckle and I thank you for that :)

Our new car is a Honda Accord and I will be making the most use of it as Gregg will stick to his Honda Odyssey. When he retires in a year or so, we will be saying goodbye to the van and this will become our sole car. That's the plan anyhow.

Eggs In My Pocket said...

Love the history about this and I love that photo!

Tammy@Simple Southern Happiness said...

You are loaded with interesting info. I adore that picture too.

Montanagirl said...

Great post! Always learn something when visiting your blog. Those chariot racers are a riot!!

Anvilcloud said...

Interesting, Grenville.

Anonymous said...

I just learned that we have the same gauge as You do on the main line railroads ( I had to check while reading this post) but have loads of other on the smaller railroads. I also learned that we have an unique gauge here on one railroad that is three old swedish feet wide :-) That would be 2,92 foot.

Interesting post!

Have a great day!

Butterbean Row said...

Now that is very interesting. I never knew that. Thank you for educating me. :o)


Ludwig Keck said...

Thank you Grenville!
Now I need wonder no more!
You always have a charming way with words and you dig up such fun details and illustrations.

Elaine said...

A lot of things we just accept as the way things are actually are done that way because of reasons that have long become irrelevant. Good thing the railroad tracks aren't based on those modern chariots....

CountryDew said...

I loved this! What a great post. Very informative and wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing.

We have the same problem with roads in older towns - they're really too narrow in many places because they were made for horse and buggy. Fincastle, near where I live, is a good example of this. In some places two vehicles can barely get by.

History is so important. I wish we all paid more attention!

barbara l. hale said...

How interesting! Something I've never thought about even though we took a ride on a narrow gauge railway once in Colorado. Well, I learned something today. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Never heard this before.

Thanks for your kind comment on my blog. John's recovery is the best bdy present I could ever hope for!

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