January 2009 – Narrow Gauge Steam Railways in East Germany

JANUARY 2009 REPORT

In January we welcomed Mr Woods as our speaker who showed us slides of Narrow Gauge Steam Railways in East Germany. Under communism they were run as a public service and not for profit so many more of them survive there than in the British Isles. They are mainly found in mountainous areas such as the Hartz Mountains as they are able to negotiate sharper curves. There is a bit of a dispute over what constitutes narrow gauge. Some people say it is anything under standard gauge and others say it must be under 2 metres. When it comes to the worldwide standard gauge, four foot eight and a half inches, how did we come to fix on such an odd number? Well, how about this – The old horse drawn rail trucks used this width because that was the width of the axels on farm wagons. Farm wagons were built this way because that was the width of the ruts on the old long distant roads in England. Many of these roads were Roman and the ruts were originally made by Roman chariots. Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. The solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle were made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. To get them to the launch site they had to go by rail, so their width was determined by the standard rail gauge, laid down 2000 years ago. Believe that if you may!

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