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From wagon wheels to rocket fuel

The Space Shuttle is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system. The design of one of its key features, the solid rocket booster, dates back to Imperial Roman times. How could this be? Let's take a journey back through time and travel...

{mosimage} The Space Shuttle is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system. The design of one of its key features, the solid rocket booster, dates back to Imperial Roman times. How could this be? Let's take a journey back through time and travel...

The solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the space shuttle are made by Thiokol in their main fuel factory in Utah. The SRBs have to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory runs through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs were designed to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track which is a standard US railroad gauge.

The US standard railroad gauge — the width between two rails — is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. An odd number, don't you think? That's the dimension of English railroads, and US railroads were built by English expatriates. Why did the English build them like that? 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 tramway builders use that gauge? They used the same jigs and tools that were used for building wagons. And wagon builders used that wheel spacing. Why? Because they took advantage of existing wheel ruts on old English roads.

The first long distance roads in England, and Europe, were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. Roman war chariots made the initial ruts, which everyone matched so they didn't break their wagon wheels and axles.
One last question remains. Why did the Romans use this wheel spacing? Roman chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. So you see, our original question is answered by looking back 2,000 years to a horse's behind.

Funny? Yes ...
Surprising?

Not really, especially if you've ever answer a question with, "Because that's the way we've always done it." How many of your own policies, procedures, and philosophies are founded on thinking that is old and outdated? You could probably use some new thought, new design, and perhaps some thinking outside the wheel ruts.

There's lots that can be done. Having trouble coming up with new solutions on your own? Ask your employees. Share this story with them at your next pre-shift briefing. Or read some of these Trade Secrets to get you started:

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