Rebuilding an Eroded Dirt Wall

“So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” -Nehemiah 4:6


Have you ever read the story of Nehemiah? It’s a good one. God used one man in an unlikely position to change the course of history for an entire nation through the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Do I think rebuilding my wall will change history? It might. . . . from being out in my yard, the Lord has already brought one witnessing opportunity right to my door step. A young man just walking by on the way home from work- he didn’t know what hit him (but I do- the Holy Spirit!).

This is the driveway. If you were to look down my street, you would see that most of the houses only have a single car driveway that fits next to their house. Our house is unique, being on a corner lot, and that it is built into a small hill. So our garage is under the house and there was room for a two car driveway. Was room are the key words. Over the years, the rain has washed the dirt down the retaining wall and has covered part of the driveway. We were not entirely sure by how much, but I was going to find out.

On Saturday I bounced back and forth between working on the garage door and shoveling dirt away from the driveway. I would put on a coat of stripper (that is to set 15 minutes) and run over and grab my shovel and dig. Then come back and scrape, add another coat, and do it again.
My arms were still very tired from scraping previously, so I only work on the garage door for an hour or so. But I shoveled dirt for about 6 hours on Saturday. There used to be a tree near the top of the retaining wall. The pervious owners removed it, but all of the leftover roots are still in the ground. So whenever I stick my spade in for a scoop of dirty, it gets tangled in tree roots, big and small.

So before I could make good progress with my shoveling, I first had to dig up the sod, then break up all the dirt with my maddox. I first gained appreciation for this tool when Nate and I were living in Connecticut. The soil out there is very rocky. Iowans have no idea- I had no idea. I helped me sister dig a fire pit and we would have gotten nowhere without it. Since then it has become very helpful with pulling out rocks and tree roots during other projects.

While digging into this bank, I found several retaining wall blocks that have been covered by dirt over time. This was good news for me. 1) If I pull out a giant block, it means it leaves an empty hole I don’t have to dig out. 2) I have more block to rebuild the retaining wall. At first I thought I would have plenty, but after getting further into this project, I fear I won’t have enough (my husband pointed out that it’s not really retaining wall block, they are just hunks of broken concrete). It’s not going to be in my budget, nor my will, to order and move a bunch of new retaining wall block. I moved thousands of lbs of block at the last house (landscaped around the entire house) and I am OVER IT.
Here are my block piles. I divide my piles into small, medium, and large as I worked their removal. This will be helpful when rebuilding the wall and getting the right fit. These are way too heavy to be sifting through later on. I asked Nate if he thought someone would think they were free since I put them by the road. His response was, “Ha! Um, no. I don’t think anyone will take them.” Whatever, when I am done they will be beautiful.

As I worked my way toward the house, the hall to the curb became too laborious, so I started stacking the large ones in the driveway also.

I have mentioned in a previous post that this house has water drainage issues. The previous owners struggled with water pouring down on the driveway from running down the hill and down this wall. So when I filled my wheel barrow with dirt, I pushed it up the hill, and dumped it at the top of the wall. My goal being to make the top of the wall slightly higher than the surrounding ground so the water can’t run over it onto the driveway. I thought this was brilliant until I realized I am making the wall higher and already have a shortage on retaining block. Well . . . I’ll have to figure that one out later.
My goal on Saturday was just to unveil the concrete to the edge. Here are a few progressive photos. I worked until I was ready to drop. My husband had to push my bottom up the stairs to get to the kitchen, literally. He knows where I carry my weight, apparently.

Not all of the concrete was unveiled. There were a few inches to go, but I just couldn’t haul one more load of dirt.


 On Sunday I was sore, but not as sore as I thought. So I worked more on my wall. Eventually, this will be a tiered wall. The bottom level will be slightly below the level of the concrete. I was shooting for 2′ deep, but I may shorten that to 1.5′- because hauling all of that dirt UP HILL is exhausting. The less dirt I have to remove, the better.
Then, I will put down some block to hold in the second tier, and so on. At this point, there will be 3-4 tiers. Nate came out yesterday with some spray paint and we drew out some lines in the yard with our vision. There will be stairs going from the corner of the driveway up the hill, leading you onto a walkway, toward a patio, and to the front door. We will pull out the front walk entirely (because really, it only leads you to a giant white van that always park there.
The hill on the other side of the stairs will be tiered also. Eventually, we would like to build a pergola over the patio with a trumpet vine and/or clematis growing on it (Nate’s folks have done this next to their house, and it’s beautiful and serene with a lovely water feature). This planning is necessary so I know where to put my dirt. We will need to level the ground a bit, so we can use this extra dirt to do that.

At the end of the work day on Sunday, this is what has been accomplished. Not bad for a weekend. Although I am hurting pretty badly today . . .

If some of you are wondering, the dirt was covering the concrete 2′ in the worst spot, and mostly 1′ for the rest. Totally worth it! We can both park our cars without being squished together. Now I just need to make this wall look presentable.


Looking where I left off, I feel pretty good about what was accomplished that weekend. My goal was to get the first tier dug down to the ground and the second tier started. I worked for about 9-10 hours on Saturday without a break. Unfortunately, the neighbors are starting to notice my oddity (or obsession with work). Fortunately, most of their comments have been positive. Such as, “Looks awesome!” and “You guys are doing a good thing here!” and “Remind me not to mess with you; you are an animal!” Ok, the last comment concerns me a little bit. They need to see I wear dresses too, and not just overalls and bandanas.

On Thursday, we had the city come out and mark the water & communication lines before digging too far. If you dig without doing this, you will be held liable for any damage, but more importantly, you could get hurt. Blue is for water and the orange is for the phone line.

communications flag

I carefully dug around these areas until I discovered the phone line was buried a lot deeper than I was digging. After that I didn’t worry about it until I neared the house. When I cleared the first tier of most of the dirt, I started digging out the second tier.

step 1

Then I started clearing the sod from the rest of the second tier.

step 2

Then I started fitting in some of the block like puzzle pieces.

building block wall 2

step 3


I was anxious to get the third tier started. It’s a lot easier to shovel when I can put my body weight on the blade instead of using my strength to push it down.

step 4

step 5

When my knees were starting to hurt, I switched muscles groups. I figured out it was a lot easier to use the maddox to just knock down the dirt on the ground instead of trying to cleanly scoop it. I was really grateful when Nate came home and helped me scoop and dump the last seven loads of dirt.

Nate wheel barrow

After everything I knocked down was scooped up from the driveway, it’s easier to see where I’m going with this.

step 6

I can’t wait  to get some plants in this scene!

step 7- end of day 4


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