TLDR | We built a concrete retaining wall with 500 pound blocks from Steve Keck in Belfair. JH trucking delivered the blocks for us on a flatbed trailer. We unloaded and set half of them with our Excavator in about two days time. Wall is pretty, stairs are substantial and amazing. For shopping details see the Shopping Appendix at the bottom.
Retaining Wall Vision
I’ve had a vision in my head of a patio between the house and the yard from the time we figured out where the house was going to go, and we’d worked out the grades of the soil. The vision has been fluid, changing and maturing as time has passed. A month or so ago I took Maddex on field trip to the Theler center in Belfair and they had some concrete blocks around their playground I really liked. Liked the blocks enough that the vision finally solidified. There’s about 3 feet of drop from the house to the yard we need to deal with for a patio. My vision for the height difference has always been a retailing wall.
In the first generations of my vision we were going to setup footing forms, pour those. Then setup wall forms and pour concrete wall in the wall in place. Pouring a wall, removing the form board then backfilling was not motivating to me. It’s a pile of digging and setting up, and pouring concrete, and bending rebar, and work I had zero motivation to undertake. Next idea, I wanted to stack ecology blocks for the wall. Down side, those are not normally pretty and they’re larger than my machine can move. Next idea was a dump truck loads of rocks to stack to make a wall. Then some more concrete pouring, then a few other ideas like the one involving fish, crème cheese, and 13$ – Finally the rocks at the Theler center solidified my vision.
Now that I’ve found my vision in real life it’s time to figure out where to buy it. My first stop was Mutual Materials in Port Orchard, but they did not carry them. They thought some guy in Belfair behind Sheer trucking made them. Mutual material educated me they do not make anything as large as the blocks at the Theler center. The answer seemed strange to me. A few days later we had dinner with my parents and I asked Dad if he knew. Strangely enough, he too mentioned the same thought about some guy behind Sheer trucking.
Looking on the internets yielded zero results for some guy in Belfair selling concrete. Internet why have you failed me? Michelle and I figured we better drive out to Belfair and look around for some guy. Well I figured this and Michelle is always down for an adventure, or she wanted to get out of the house; either way we went looking. Sure enough, we found some guy behind Sheer trucking named Steve who sells the same concrete blocks Maddex and I found at the Theler center. We talked with Steve, worked out how many blocks we needed, agreed on a price for the blocks, and paid the man – A few weeks later the blocks showed up at our house. Weeks later not because of Steve, but because we had a Roxi and were busy for a few days.
Unloading the blocks
The first load of about 60 blocks showed up on a forty-foot utility trailer towed behind a Peterbilt dump truck driven by Jason of JH trucking. Jason said he would arrive around 8:30 – he hit the end of the driveway at 8:30 on the nose. Love it when people are prompt and on time. Took him a minute or two to make it up the driveway, but our driveway Is less then level or not what I’d call short, plus it had a fresh layer of inch and a half clean crushed gravel in some corners needing to be packed down. Once Jason backed the trailer into position Bruce, Maddex and I jumped on the trailer to start unhooking the chain binders and tie down straps.
Maddex worked on the truck as the head Rigger. As head rigger he hooked the chain to the rebar loop in the top of each stone. I was the crane operating and lifted them off of the trailer with the machine. Bruce spun the blocks into position to be stacked for storage until we were ready for them. Took us about 30 minutes to unload the stones, shockingly not a single stone busted while unloaded, and no one was hurt. Maddex did an amazing job hooking the blocks up then getting out of the way and paying attention to the world around him.
The next load showed up about 2 hours later and took about the same time to unload. The Stairs proved to be a great deal heavier than the wall blocks. They are over the full extension weight limit of the machine and made It extremely unstable during boom rotation. I went slow and sucked them in closer to the cab as soon as possible. My Dad wisely suggested taking the bucket off of the machine while unloading. That guy says smart words sometimes. 100# less on the boom was a big help moving everything around.
At the end of the day, after we tucked the kids in, I was telling Michelle about Maddex. I said to her “Maddex was awesome today. He was a great rigger unloading the blocked.He worked hard, and was very focused. Most impressive was how he paid attention to everything around him. Nothing hit him in the head, and he did not fall off of the trailer” – Our house being a single open room, and me using bragging to mom as a parenting technique to reinforce good kid behavior in our kids, Maddex heard us. He chimed in from bed and says “Well dad, I did almost fall off a few times, but you missed it” then he giggled a bit. Love that kid.
Blocks and stairs all piled up to waiting to create the great wall of awesome. – Beef Nacho Camacho supreme President Trump would be be so proud I’m sure he’d get me a full body latte from Starbucks.
Maddex raising his arms to show his dominance of the gravel pile – look at that grass about to die to the power of the machine going back and forth. Gravel delirvered earlier in the week by Miles Sand and Gravel.
Stair Building and Math
On top of the wall we’re going to pour a concrete patio. The patio is going to span the distance from the wall to the front of the house. Once built the wall is not going to move, the house is already build and will not move either. I’m planning for a small drop of only an inch over 20 feet for water runoff. Enough to help but not enough to make things feel out of level. Due to conduits leaving the house above the footing we have to pour within 1″ of the concrete slab floor of the house. Most likely we’ll be level with the house slab. Three blocks stacked are 38″ high – six stairs stacked is 42″ high @ 7″ a stair.
We shot the house slab with a laser transit and a grade rode. The Slab came in 2’11.5″. The bottom stair needs to be 42″ + 1″ or drop + 1-2″ of void to be filled with packed 5/8″ minus fill gravel. You add those up, do math magic, and we needed to shoot the laser on the rod at 6’1.5″ from the bottom of the hole. I started to dig for the stairs with the excavator and Bruce kept checking with the grade stick until we hit our mark. Once we hit the mark we back filled the hole with gravel then packed it down with a tamper. After we set the soil height we needed to do more math and center the stairs on the house, and place the stairs far enough from the house to correctly line up with the face of the wall.
To calculate center, we went lazy, eyeballed the center of the house, and drew a line in the dirt with my shoe. For the wall face I drew a line in the dirt that lined up with the hot tub, figured a 14″ run on the stairs, figured 2 stairs in front of the wall, added 14 + 14, then marked the dirt 28″ in front of the wall line in the dirt. Then I picked up the stair with the machine, and we set the first stair. The rest were simple, we set the rest the stairs then the moment of truth. We shot final height with the laser. BAM, 1″ lower than the house slab. We somehow managed to math correctly.
First few steps set and filled with gravel behind for the next stair to rest on.
I LOVE the feel of these steps. The word I use is substantial. They have a dense last forever feeling to me that is pleasing.
Building the wall
We finished the stairs the same day the blocks were delivered. Then next day we worked on the wall. It took most of the day to set the bottom row, then the next two rows took about 30 minutes to set. The top of the wall needed to line up with the top of the stairs. No math needed here, we put the 5′ level on the top stair and measured down 38″ and tamped the gravel to that height. We checked the dirt with level and dropped a block. To move the blocks around we used a steel bar. To set the blocks in a line we eye balled, snapped a line, and put the 5′ level on the front and back of the blocks.
The bottom row being the foundation had to be perfect else nothing else would be correct. Bruce and I spent a good 20 minute leveling each block, twisting them around, lining them up, and making sure everything was right. At the end of the day the lawn between the wall and the pile of blocks is now gone. Stairs was sunny and 80, I feel sun burnt a but still, the wall day was cloudy and windy; so much better. The wind kicked up a few times and we had tiny dust storms.
First three wall blocks set next to the stairs. The ones by the stairs are corner blocks with a face on the front of the wall and a face towards the stairs to make for a pretty finish. They also have a short and long side to establish the seam offset for the blocks of the wall. You can’t line up the seams when you build a wall because then you’ll have no structural integrity otherwise. Structural integrity is the thing I’ve taught the kids to practice and say when building with Legos.
Checking for level and line at every step in the process to make sure it’s all perfect.
Me driving away to park the machine after setting the last block. Bruce is pushing it around with a bar to make sure it’s tight to the blocks around it.
Half of the wall finished as it started to sprinkle – notice the grass that was browning in the heat is now gone, turned to dust.
We back filled the base layer with soil and gravel to set it in place then we stacked on the next two levels. You can see the backs of the stones here before I back filled them and leveled the patio area above. The plan is to cap the wall with 12″x 12″ tiles and pour the slab lined up with near the back of the wall in case the wall settles or shifts. I don’t want to crack the slab if anything moves. Shifting, plus, without drilling holes in the wall or leaving steel forms in place, I’m not really sure how to pour concrete over that blocks up to the lip and make it thick enough to hold up to raw force our kids. The lip is 2″ thick and 2″ or concrete on top of concrete feels like asking for cracks and breaks over time. I’d want 4″ in top of them to feel confident.
Shopping Appendix at the bottom
I fully recommend the concrete supplier and transporter we used for our wall project.
Where did you get the Blocks?
We bought the concrete blocks from Steve Keck. Steve makes concrete blocks and recycles steal at his yard in Belfair. You can contact Steve at (360) 340 -6099 or stop by his yard located at – 420 Ne Log Yard Rd | Belfair, WA 98528 He’s behind Sheer Trucking. When you drive into the yard head onto the steel scale and walk into the trailer next to it and ask for Steve. You’ll see the concrete blocks stacked 5 or 6 high all over the yard, they are pretty, pay no attention to the piles of steel recycling everywhere.
How did you get the blocks to your house?
Steve suggested a deliver driver, we took up his suggestion, and were pleased with the service. Steve suggested we call Jason of JH trucking out of Belfair. Jason can be contacted at (360) 710-0433 or via Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/JHTruckingInc . Jason charged a flat rate per load and it took two loads to move the 110 or so blocks plus stairs. He came with a Peterbilt dump truck towing a 40′ flatbed equipment trailer. Jason helped Steve load the blocks on site, and he offered to help us unload them onsite had Maddex not wanted the job of head rigger.
Living in the small world we do Jason and My dad took a trip in their trucks on a barge to Blake island once, and Jason worked or someone my dad bought one of his Kenworth’s from. We’re all only a few Kevin Bacons away from each other.
Few more pictures because I love pictures.
Somewhat before we started moving dirt and building a wall. – Thanks Wendy for this picture.
Random working picture where we all mostly look like we are performing some kind of labour.
Great shot of Maddex guiding the hook to the blocks. Covered in sun screen wearing a hat. I should have sun screened myself; Mutter.