Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
July 14, 2003

"We Have Always Done It This Way!"
By Steven H. McGarthwaite

Reading an article, that had nothing to do with fly angling, I came across a story that could easily apply to many things we do in fly angling. It was a story on why railroad rails in the United States are exactly 4 feet 8 inches in width.

Early railroads in the United States were built by English Engineers, who were the experts at that time, in constructing railroads. The railroads in England were 4 feet 8 inches wide, because that was the axel width between wheels on the horse carriages for road travel. On dirt roads back then, the wheels would cause ruts when the roadways were wet, and a common wheel width would insure that a carriage would not suffer a broken axel. But just how did that exact measurement came about? It is such and odd measurement.

The axel width story goes back to the Roman Empire. Roman Legions had Chariots, and those Chariots, had a wheel width distance of exactly 4 feet 8 inches. Reason for this was that two horses hitched in tandem side by side pulled the Chariots. The two horses hitched in tandem, side by side, resulted in a horse hoof pattern on the ground of 4 feet 8 inches width. Since it was important that you not have a horse going lame, the horses would pull the Chariots thru the ruts in the roadway made by previous Chariots.

All carriages were of a width no wider than the combined width of two horses' ass. All roadways were made wide enough that two horses' ass, could easily pass two other horses' ass, heading in the opposite direction. All bridgework and tunnels were designed with horses' ass taken into consideration and measurements.

Just what does all this has to do with fly angling? Fly angling is steeped in history, most of it obscure and mysterious. Many times, you will hear someone say, "Because...We have always done it this way!"

It matters in the type of fly you fish with, or how you tie a fly. "We have always done it this way!"

It matters in building a fly rod, designing a rod handle, or spacing the guides. "We have always done it this way!"

Does matters how you think you should fish a stream. "We have always done it this way!"

So the next time you hear someone tell you the reason you are wrong, "Because we have always done it this way!" Just remember that there is a good chance that there was a Horses' Ass involved with the reason, somewhere in the distant past! ~Parnelli

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