Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Railway Gauges and Horse's behinds

Railway Gauges and Horse's behinds

Wednesday, 26 March 2003

Presenter: Peter Gooch

Researcher: Noel Whittaker

Where did that come from?

If you've ever wondered where we got our peculiar railway gauge and other transportation measurements, you're not alone. As revealed by financial expert Noel Whittaker, in America and England the following material has been provided to settle the curiosity pangs of those with measurment angst.

Does the statement, "We've always done it that way" ring any bells?
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Now that's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

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?
Imperial Rome built the first longdistance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore, the United States standard railroad specifications are the same as for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

And bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a spec and told we have always done it that way and wonder which horse's arse came up with that, 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.

Now the twist to the story...
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. These SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through atunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world'smost advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's arse.

And you thought being a horse's arse wasn't important?? ...

Je me souviens...

Quebec City Honours Its Women Religious Educators

Je me souviens!The face, the colour and the language of Quebec City have changed considerably over the years since Marymount College closed its doors in 1969. It remains a beautiful city in a Province that is officially unilingual French in an officially bilingual Canada. Today, it is hard to imagine that there once was a very visible and vibrant English language population in Quebec City, be they Roman Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. The late sixties and seventies saw the English leave Quebec in droves. Quebec City was particularly hard hit as its high school graduates left the City to attend English universities in Montreal, Lennoxville (Bishop’s) or in any of the other Provinces of Canada. Very few returned and soon entire families were gone.

If one doesn’t read French, one won’t know who, what the monument or plate honours (that applies to all Provincially owned attraction) as there is no English translation. English and French descriptions appear together only in Federal office buildings or offices, in federally funded or federally owned sites such as the “Plains of Abraham”. Our politics are no longer “red” or “blue”, but either a pro-Canada or pro-independent French-only Quebec. It is hard to imagine that tourism is the main industry of this city, along with the city being a government town, the capital of the Province of Quebec.

In June of 2000 I was showing a friend around the City . We stopped to read the inscription and plates of a monument near the Ursuline Monastery in Old Quebec. The monument was commissioned by the City of Quebec to commemorate the 325th anniversary of the death of Marie de l’Incarnation, known as the Mother of the Canadian Church and founder, in 1639, of the first girls’ school in North America. The monument honours not just the Ursulines, but also all those women religious who dedicated their lives to educating Quebec’s youth. Two plates list the names of 56 religious orders of women, the year of establishment and in what city or town in the Province. It is hard to imagine that the Province of Quebec, by looking at the monument and those 56 names, had, has an English speaking population. As I read through the names with my friend, I noticed the Anglican Order of the Sisters of Saint John the Divine, first established in Quebec City, 1927. I had never heard of them and my research would later confirm that they indeed were in the City but were not, are not a teaching religious order. With that exception, no other English religious order was to be found listed. Neither the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, Quebec City, 1935, nor the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Quebec City, 1943, was listed.

The “English Face of Quebec” was simply not there.

I started school in Kindergarten the year Marymount’s Junior School opened in 1953. I made it through to my Junior Year of High School, which I failed. I was sent to boarding school at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, in Halifax., Nova Scotia. The SCH taught in the English public Roman Catholic Schools in Quebec. There are still four of them left and for how much longer? It remains a mystery to this day how history-minded people did not notice that the English were missing… One might say that I took it personally – my beloved teachers weren’t there! I then set out to see if I could do something to have “my nuns” listed. I started my research and when I had what I needed I wrote to the Mayor. I wrote my letter in English. The Country was mourning the death of our former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and writing in English was my way of honouring the man who had a shared with us his bilingual vision of Canada and his Federal Government legislated that Canada be bilingual. Thanks to Mr Trudeau, if you are annoyed to see English on your box of "Corn Flakes", turn it around for the French...

I did attend a Quebec City council meeting after contacting an opposition councillor that I know, knowing he would bring the subject up thereby opening the door for my two cents worth. I pointed out that within the next 25 years that monument would be more of a tombstone and wouldn’t they want their tombstones properly inscribed? Ironically, the City council meeting that I attended was a historical one in that it was the last of the City of Quebec as we had known it. January 1, 2002, by Government imposed legislation, Quebec City incorporated all the suburbs into one "mega" city. The City of Quebec City Hall is now home to this central municipal government and the new Quebec City.

The budget was approved to have new plates cast, both plates as a couple of French Religious orders had also been overlooked including the Augustinian nuns (AMJ) who arrived with Marie de l’Incarnation and founded the first hospital in North America. They had one of the first nursing schools! The Mayor gave me his word that “my English speaking nuns” would be remembered!

The new engraved plate was affixed to the monument in August 2002. In talking with one of the City’s councilmen I discovered that it isn’t clear if this monument is meant to honour the women religious who actually taught in Quebec City only or Province-wide. In either case, it is not accurate. The Augustinians who taught nursing are still not there and they arrived in 1639 with the Ursulines, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus never came to Quebec City...

Sheelagh Grenon
Marymount College, Quebec City/Ste-Foy, 1953-1964
Mount Saint Vincent Academy, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1966
Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, BEd 1981

© Sheelagh Grenon 2002


Bill Roskopt writes:
I understand "Godspeed" to mean good luck, but what is its origin?

The word Godspeed is used to wish a person good fortune or success, as on starting a journey, a new business, etc.
It is usually found in expressions of the sort "to bid (a person) Godspeed."
A few examples:
"Evangelist, after he had kissed him, gave him one smile, and bid him God-speed. So he went on with haste..." (John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress); "'I'm wishing you God-speed, Hattersley,' cried Arthur, 'and aiding you with my prayers'" (Anne Brontë Tenant of Wildfell Hall); "Rowland at the garden gate was giving his hostess Godspeed on her way to church" (Henry James, Roderick Hudson); "Eight years before he had seen his friend off at the North Wall and wished him God-speed" (James Joyce, Dubliners).

Godspeed is a nominalization of the phrase God speed (you), understanding which depends on two things: speed in this sense means 'to prosper; succeed', which is now archaic, but which is the original sense of the word; and the verb is subjunctive, expressing a wish, with the entire phrase meaning "may God cause you to succeed."
(Semantic parallels are such common expressions as God bless you or God forbid!; another nominalization is goddamn (as in "I don't give a good goddamn what you think"), shortened from God damn you. )
The word Godspeed (which can also be written God-speed) is from Middle English, first found in personal names in the thirteenth century.