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Old 07-27-2013, 07:36 AM   #1
VydorScope
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How wide would a trail be

So if someone was lost in the woods on a primitive world where they still carried stuff by wagons and horses and stumbled on a wagon trail... what is a reasonable width said trail might be? I was thinking 3 or 4 meters? I am thinking a wagon is probably less then 2 meters wide? Maybe 1.5 meters?

Am I on target or way off? Thanks!
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Old 07-27-2013, 11:14 AM   #2
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We could get technical and ask what level of gravity exists on the world, what sort of loads are being carried, and what sort of terrain. The higher the gravity and heavier the loads the narrower the track, and vise-versa. If mountainous terrain then vehicles with a narrower tracks are preferred.

I think you are correct in suggesting that a wagon wheel track would be something less than 2m, but probably more than 1.5m - but I don't have any firm facts on the subject. In the woods the track is not likely to be much wider than the wagons themselves - unless the track sees a lot of traffic - as it is too much trouble to cut back more than you absolutely need.

If the place is an all wooded environment the wagons may have a narrower track, with wheels that are fully beneath the tray to allow overhang on each side - think bullock wagons - as this allows for a wider load without the wheels running up against the ground that is typically raised near tree trunks.
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Old 07-27-2013, 11:19 AM   #3
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The trail would not be wide enough for two to pass? What would happen if two met?
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Old 07-27-2013, 11:32 AM   #4
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Unless there is a lot of traffic it seems unlikely you will find a two lane wagon trail - especially in a forest. I'm not sure what the etiquette was, but I suspect it was just a matter of finding a break between the trees (the historical equivalent to a wide spot in the road) to pull over and wait. Even today many roads in more remote areas cannot easily accept two cars side-by-side, one or the other finds a wide spot where they're not going to get bogged or go over the edge, and waits for the other to pass. (In wagons days they probably both stopped, totally blocking the track, and boiled the billy while they had a chat. )
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Old 07-27-2013, 11:39 AM   #5
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So if the hero said he came across a trail "about 2 meters wide," that would be a reasonable description?
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Old 07-27-2013, 12:09 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
So if the hero said he came across a trail "about 2 meters wide," that would be a reasonable description?
I think that would be reasonable.

The thing with forest tracks is that "width" is such an indeterminate thing. Are you describing how wide it feels to walk along with your arms held out*, or describing how far apart are the wheel ruts? If you say "he came across a trail a couple of metres wide" then I think it is enough to suggest it is more than an animal trail, without suggesting some sort of highway.

* In an open forest (such as those along the river not far from where I grew up), I think you would probably just describe the width by the wheel ruts, because there is no other good way to gauge it. In a dense forest with lots of undergrowth or low branches the visual, arms outstretched, width may well be not much different to the wheel ruts anyway - with protruding growth and so on.
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Old 07-27-2013, 12:48 PM   #7
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Are you using normal earth-type horses, or alien/primitive planet type horses?? How wide is the rump of the animal and is one animal strong enough to pull the load, or do you need two?

About 3 ft wide per normal horse is reasonable.
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Old 07-27-2013, 04:24 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Turtle91 View Post
Are you using normal earth-type horses, or alien/primitive planet type horses?? How wide is the rump of the animal and is one animal strong enough to pull the load, or do you need two?

About 3 ft wide per normal horse is reasonable.
That is a good question, assuming normal Earth horses, would they be two wide pulling a wagon or only one through some unknown lightly populated forest region?
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Old 07-27-2013, 05:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
That is a good question, assuming normal Earth horses, would they be two wide pulling a wagon or only one through some unknown lightly populated forest region?
I think it would depend on if it's an established area or they are pioneers hoping to start a new settlement. Back a couple hundred yrs back if people were going west they often used oxen rather than horses because they were stronger (could pull more weight)and could also be used for food easier if the need arose.
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Old 07-27-2013, 06:04 PM   #10
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I would imagine. . .

It would be like here on earth, it depends on what is being hauled, the design of the wagon, and if they are using a relatively modern horse collar harness or the more primitive throat girth harness. You might want to think about the general level of the technology of the culture that made the wagon trail. Also, again depending on the specific situation, Oxen might be used instead of horses. (Stronger, less expensive, less delicate)

Is this fictional culture analogous to the 18th & 19th century Western nations? Then a horse collar and possibly the use of oxen need to be considered. If the fictional culture base predates Western civilization's period of expansion, then something else needs to be considered. This is key technology in such a culture, in many ways it helps define and shape the culture.

Also don't forget Wagon design. A buckboard type wagon, will leave a different trail than a Conestoga wagon, but if the trail is old enough both would have contributed to the trail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_collar

Then again, being on a different planet, it can be whatever your story needs it to be. So long as it is logically consistent.

Edit: Oxen would need different harness than horses

http://www.prairieoxdrovers.com/collars.html

Last edited by GlenBarrington; 07-27-2013 at 06:15 PM.
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Old 07-28-2013, 05:15 AM   #11
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There is also the question if your hero needs to be that specific. Wouldn't it be enough if he describe the trail as '(barely) wide enough for one wagon'?

Depending on the surrounding vegetation and terrain, the local width of the trail could fluctuate greatly.

The people your hero is talking to should understand how wide a trail for one wagon is. Your readers will also have a notion of it. It may not be the same as your notion, but you have to decide if an exact measurement is needed. If it is not needed, than I would prefer comparative descriptions over numeric ones, because my notion of 'one lane' is much better than '3m' and I do live in a society using metric measurements.
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Old 07-28-2013, 06:27 AM   #12
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That is an great point Sunlite! The problem is my hero would have never seen a wagon before, and come across a random trail while lost in a unknown forest. I as the author know it to be a wagon trail, but he as a character does not. If he did know what a wagon was, I would not use meters at all, I would use something like you mentioned.

The goal here is not perfect accuracy, but sound reasonable so that anyone reading it will fly by, get the image of scene and keep reading with out thinking "whoa that seems wrong."
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Old 07-28-2013, 07:12 AM   #13
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Is it really necessary to the plot that the width of the trail be specified?
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Old 07-28-2013, 07:18 AM   #14
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Is it really necessary to the plot that the width of the trail be specified?
Just enough that they get the picture and are not thinking of a walking path because later 20-30 soldiers are going to be on the trail and our hero is going to be face with a fight on that trail. None of that works if a person thinks he is following a game trail or something like that.
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Old 07-28-2013, 09:21 AM   #15
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Perhaps you could convey that by using a different word, such as "track" or "road", rather than "trail"?
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