The Road by John Ehle
Originally published in 1967, The Road is epic historical fiction at its best. At the novel's center is Weatherby Wright, a railroad builder who launches an ambitious plan to link the highlands of western North Carolina with the East. As a native of the region, Wright knows what his railway will mean to the impoverished settlers. But to accomplish his grand undertaking he must conquer Sow Mountain, "a massive monolith of earth, rock, vegetation and water, an elaborate series of ridges which built on one another to the top."
Wright's struggle to construct the railroad—which requires tall trestles crossing deep ravines and seven tunnels blasted through shale and granite—proves to be much more than an engineering challenge. There is opposition from a child evangelist, who preaches that the railroad is the work of the devil, and there is a serious lack of funds, which forces Wright to use convict labor. How Wright confronts these challenges and how the mountain people respond to the changes the railroad brings to their lives make for powerfully compelling reading.
Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998 - 401