Tunnels, Nitro and Convicts

Building The Railroad That Couldn't Be Built

by Stephen R. Little



Book Details

Language : English
Publication Date : 12/14/2010

Format : Softcover
Dimensions : 8.5x11
Page Count : 38
ISBN : 9781452067711

About the Book

Still suffering the devastation of the Civil war that ended only ten years earlier, North Carolina shipped prison inmates from Raleigh to build the Mountain Division of the western North Carolina railroad. Some amazing and astonishing events occurred from 1875 through 1879 as this mountain railroad (3 miles straight-line distance, requiring 9+ miles of track) was pushed up the eastern continental divide. Six tunnels were excavated, from 89 to 1,800 feet long, each 15 feet tall. For open cuts, solid rock was cracked by dousing cold mountain water on roaring fires. The first use in the southeastern U.S. of a new product called Nobel's Blasting Oil (now called nitroglycerin!) was on the project. It was mixed with sawdust and corn meal, making nitroglycerin mash. A very heavy wood-burning locomotive was picked up off the tracks by the convicts and pushed several miles overland to the top of the mountain to help dig out the longest tunnel. The most common tool used was a flat rock held in the strong hands of the convicts to dig and spread dirt as they prepared the flat path needed to lay crossties for the rails. Tunnels, Nitro and Convicts condenses the incredible history of the most ambitious earth-moving, mountain-conquering project in the United States as of the 1870s into an engaging, easy-to-read story. The fascinating and compelling intertwining of long dark caves, blasting and cracking of massive rocks, the first use of nitroglycerin in the southeastern United States, and pushing a big locomotive several miles through the woods up a mountain ... all by hundreds of convicts who worked under severe conditions with the most basic tools ... makes this true account of post-civil war railroad history a story you must read!

About the Author

While a camper and staffer at Camp Ridgecrest in western North Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s, Steve Little heard the trains at night when everything else was quiet. The sound of their engines downshifting to climb to the quarter-mile-long Swannanoa tunnel is a vivid memory. In 1972, Little walked the railroad's 9 miles of tracks in western McDowell County, North Carolina, through all 6 tunnels, taking pictures as he went. This experience was helpful as he wrote an in-depth thesis of the railroad's construction for his history major at Wake Forest University. Three years later, he met John Ehle, author of The Road, and the two swapped stories of their railroad research and their love of the western North Carolina Mountains. Steve Little was born and raised in the flatlands of Smithfield in eastern North Carolina and chose to move to Marion in the foothills-mountains of western North Carolina after graduating from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1977. Little is an experienced transactional and trial attorney, a previous teacher of survival camping, an active church member, a current or former trustee of several North Carolina Baptist institutions (Wingate University, Baptist Children's Homes of NC, NC Baptist Hospital of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center), a regular speaker at professional continuing education seminars on estate planning and estate administration, the 2010-2011 state moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, and the mayor of Marion, North Carolina. He is married to the former Alice Hobbs and has two adult daughters, Mary and Sally.