The Wall: a do it yourself epic tale

In November of 2007  we moved to a new home in a new community.  It was only about a hour from the home we had and we had to move because J was commuting 4 hours daily to his job.  We had to get closer.

We decided that we didn’t want to make the full 2 hour leap to a small town, so we stayed a little closer to the Portland metro area.  In doing this, however,  I had to get a new job.


The Willamette Valley, our new home.

In November of 2007, after 9 months of being on the market, we got the first real prospective buyers for our home.  Even though they were offering too little, we got them up into a range that didn’t make our stomachs turn.

Then we had to turn on a dime and find a place in this new community we had ultimately settled on.  We didn’t really have alot of time, we had to hustle, they wanted to move in fast.

We ended up in a nice enough, solidly built home in a quiet little neighborhood.  The only drawback?  The whole side of the house opened up to what turned out to be a rather busy street.  People were flying past at 40 mph on this 25 mph lane that used to dead end just beyond our house.  But, since they punched the road through to connect with a freeway, things had changed.

We stood on the side of our house and surveyed the open yard we had, which would allow any person to come and take out of our back yard whatever they liked.  Of course they wouldn’t, this community was small and it hadn’t occurred, but it also meant no safe place for a tike to play.

Since the house sat on a sort of slope, before we could fence it, we knew we had to build a wall.  J, my woodworker/coder husband boldly seemed ready for the task ahead.

We mentally lifted 80 lb concrete blocks, we mentally calculated the cost for the material for the wall, we mentally said goodbye to a vacation in 2008, as we poured resources into closing up a back yard.

The first step was to figure out what we were doing, and mr. coderman, of course first thing, he googled it.  After measuring, we realized we needed a 50 foot long wall that would be 4 feet tall at its highest point, since we are on a slight slope.


 Here you can see the slope, the house and the openness of everything.  If J looked up he would look into our back yard, which everyone else could look into as well.  What were we thinking?  We were thinking we needed a house, fast.

We called to see if there were gas lines, and then the trench was dug.  Jeff dug energetically and vigorously, feeling a sense of accomplishment at his 50 foot long 4 foot wide trench that took a month of weekends to dig.  The neighbors looked on quizically, “Why they messin up their yard?”

The clincher was, after digging this trench in which to set the bricks, he had to basically dig it again, deeper.


Here is a good part of the first step.  Having this accomplished, J rested a bit, and we gathered our strength for buying block.

J knew he had to do some stuff with fabric and he had to work out drainage issues so the trench was beset with dealing with a sprinker system, and then putting a whole bunch of landscape fabric down. This was Spring 08.


Dealing with roots of a tree was a component of digging the trench.  Miraculously, the tree is alive still.

After the trench was dug, work stalled.

Choosing bricks, and specifically buying bricks first, was a major gulp to contend with.

I scouted prices and delivery costs. We estimated the cost of the wall entirely too low at first, and when the real prices started coming through, our stomachs started to turn.  But there was no backing out.

Eight pallets of block stood on that sidewalk for a couple weeks before the big commitment began: laying that first block.

I think this part was the hardest for J.  The wall is pretty high profile, like I said, we came to learn that is was along a road that was basically being used as a bypass to a freeway.


Laying that first row of block, even though the ground was completely prepared with fabric and rock, was a committment.  He didn’t want to build something that would look all messy and ridiculous, he wanted a fine wall.  He has high standards for his work.  Thus, a slight hesitation.

Fortunately, J’s dad has no such issues.  He came right along and started laying the block, cornerstone and the first row.  No back supporting belt, no gloves, just some 80 lb blocks being laid one by one into that trench.  My back hurts just to think about it, but grandad would hear nothing of a a belt.

And that was the real groundbreaking.  Once J saw his dad was doing it, well he knew that the wall couldn’t wait a moment longer.  J donned work gear, and they got going together.  This was July and August of 2008.


Here is J’s dad, looking like a day out on the golf course as he surveys four rows of 80 lb block laid.  In the foreground is lil A sitting on the palette of block.

Once the first row was laid, the wall came along at a steady clip.  People were commenting “That’s a fine looking wall!” and Jeff would stand back and look at how the lines worked and how it was turning out.  His civil engineer side combined with his desire to save a buck was satisfied.  His work was coming out very , very well.


After the first row was laid, the wall popped up pretty quickly.  The only tricky parts were returning the bricks toward the house to complete the wall.  With angles being what they were, the guys surveyed everything quite a few times to make sure their plans were correct.


Here Jeff is sawing one of the blocks to fit.  He also caulked between the layers.  I love his hat.


After the wall was completed, the capstone needed to go on, and the whole thing needed to be backfilled.  It took something like 8 yards of gravel and our neighbors Dingo to get the thing all filled.


Here’s Jeff getting the gravel in before we loaded it up then with topsoil, about 9 yards or something like that. In this shot the capstones have been loaded on.


After the rocks were backfilled in the wall, the guys started plotting out where the postholes needed to go for the fence that would be set on top of the wall.  This was probably about September when the post holes were set.

Here’s Jeff with his pop getting the first post up, filling a piece of heavy duty cardboard tubing with concreted and measuring many times with all the surveying and wood working level tools to make sure the posts weren’t all cattywampus.  This seemed to be Jeff’s biggest point of contention, he did not want his fence to be all crooked, like the fences he had been looking at around town.

I am going to post this now, I told you this was a long process.  The next part:  The fence itself.  The part that J was more looking forward to because woodworking is what he really enjoys.

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