Magazine article Information Outlook

Don't Get Caught in the Ruts!

Magazine article Information Outlook

Don't Get Caught in the Ruts!

Article excerpt

A few months ago, I visited the Saint Louis Chapter of SLA and held a dialog with them on the future of the profession and the ties that will bind it to SLA in the future. I told a story during that meeting that resonated with many in the audience. I share it with you now, not because it is factually correct (as we learned that night via a guest from the City Museum of Transportation), but because it is humorous, thought-provoking, and [ldots] well, darnit, I'm on deadline!

This story is a look into the corporate mind that is very interesting, educational, historical, at least partially true, and hysterical all at the same time:

The U.S. 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 the U.S. 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 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 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 their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots first formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. …

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