Rockin' and rollin' out a new wall

April 10, 2000

Those of you who have been reading these monthly missives for the past year and a half are undoubtedly familiar with our oft-mentioned retaining wall project. By now you also know that our plans to one day replace the sagging wood fence that has served to hold back the sandy slope in our back yard for the past decade have been put on hold by everything from lack of money to lack of interest. So, no doubt all of you doubters will be amazed to discover that progress has been made at long last.

On Monday, March 13, we dropped in on Home Depot in Pittsburg and ordered nearly 7 tons of building supplies, including 180 65-pound retaining wall stones, 250 clay bricks, 50 cinder blocks, 7 sacks of mortar and 4 bags of concrete mix. We were promised delivery by Friday, which gave us a few days to work out the details of how we would move the kit and kaboodle from our driveway to the back patio. Roni and Glenn thought they could handle the task together, which was a fine plan except that we didn't count on Roni breaking her right hand that Thursday while chasing after Benji, his friend James and the ice cream man. Thus, Roni was sporting a spiffy blue cast by Friday afternoon when the delivery truck arrived with seven pallets of heavy objects that occupied most of the front driveway.

Realizing the daunting task that Glenn now faced alone, we called in Glenn's brother Sean to help shoulder the load. Bright and early Saturday morning, Glenn began transporting the retaining blocks two at a time into the back yard, using Benji's aging Radio Flyer wagon. By the time Sean arrived we had two dollies and a wheelbarrow at our disposal as well. Together, the two Gehlke Bros. lugged the heavy blocks for a couple of hours, plowing their way through all but the last four pallets. Roni gamely did her best to aid the cause, lifting the lighter clay bricks into the wagon with her good hand while Benji helped unload them next to the gazebo.

With more than half of the heavy retaining wall blocks remaining, Glenn was at it again Sunday morning. But Sean and brother-in-law Tom Ferreira soon arrived and the three of them polished off the pile in minutes. After that, the trio tackled removal of several sections of the old fence, uprooting a couple of old concrete footings and removing a dozen 2-by-12 fence planks. A couple of days of cleanup, grading and soil compacting later, Glenn was ready for the task of laying up the the new wall.

Starting March 22 and working two blocks at a time, Glenn took the wall from the east side of the yard and proceeded west, building it up to five courses, leaving room for a stair well in the garden and a low brick retaining wall behind the gazebo. Each block was laid in place and then filled with sand. When one course was complete, blocks for the next course were stacked on top in a similar manner, pyramid style. This process creates niches between the blocks that can be planted with flowers, ivy -- or weeds if one acts too slowly. It's known as a living wall. Progress was slow on most days, with Glenn working two or three hours in the morning and early afternoon before having to go to work. A good day might see 20 blocks placed; 10 or 12 was average.

At this writing, 166 of the original 180 blocks have been placed. We realized early on that we would not have enough to complete our wall, but with only a few extras needed there was no sense in popping another $50 delivery fee, so we are collecting them three at a time from Home Depot whenever we happen to be in the area. Currently four sections of the original fence remain. We only need to remove two more sections and purchase enough blocks to complete to that point as there will be a second set of stairs constructed there. The remaining two fence sections will eventually become part of a waterfall and mountain scene for Glenn's garden railway, so they will stay in place for now.

With most of the wall complete, our attention is turning to the brickwork. This week we hope to pour the foundation for our garden stairs, followed by work on the low retaining wall behind the gazebo. Glenn has a book out of the library on basic masonry, so we'll see how much he has learned!

Back to Roni and her broken hand...

After spending two weeks in the blue designer cast, Roni returned to the doctor March 31 to have new x-rays taken. She was relieved to have the cast removed. Despite the inconvenience of Roni's injury, we still managed to enjoy our anniversary March 26 with a drive to the Napa wine country where we had a picnic lunch at V. Sattui winery and took in the sights. A few fields of wild mustard remained and the grapes were in early bloom. Benji accompanied us, although he was more interested in the picnic than sightseeing.

Benji is looking forward to an upcoming birthday party. Meanwhile he is hard at work on his school activities, including a field trip April 10 to Smith Family Farm in Knightsen where he and his classmates learned about California history, farming and got to pet some baby animals. He is rapidly improving his reading skills and spends almost as much time reading to his parents as the other way around. And yes, he is still strong in the ways of the Pokémon.

That's about it for this month. We are off to complete our taxes and plant our new wall.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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