Stuck In a Rut

Excerpt by Malcolm Du Plessis


You’ve probably noticed as a songwriter that there are some basic characteristics of most popular songs. Certain melody choices, lyrical phrasing, and song maps. But have you ever stopped to ask to the question “why?”

In a recent interview, Malcolm Du Plessis used the analogy of railroad tracks to show us how easy it is to get stuck in tradition and the importance of challenging the creative status quo.


The Railroad Gauge

“The Canada and US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

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?

The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads?

The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots.

Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. The US standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot…

…The Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. Thus, we have the answer to the original question.”



Traditions and Habits

It’s our traditions and our habits that Jesus said, “make null and void the word of God.” God’s Word is powerful but getting into a rut—getting into a groove—has a way of numbing us to the impending power of God.

We have to change. We can’t be caught in routines. We don’t have to change for change’s sake but when you think of it, we have the railroad gauges made for something that happened years ago.


In what ways do you tend to get stuck in worship?

What are some ways to get un-stuck?



We can’t be caught in routines.
— Malcolm Du Plessis
Justin Gray