Dry Stack Stone Retaining Wall

I have a path in the back near the railroad that is below ground level on one end. I built a dry stack stone retaining wall with the native basalt I had dug up throughout the yard. First I established a string line to define the edge, and picked the “best” stones for the foundation. They should each be large and extend from the line to the back if at all possible. Each foundation stone must be on a level base so that gravity works to hold it in place.

Foundation stones

The wall is built up by finding stones that “fit” as closely as possible on the stones beneath. Try to use stones that cross a boundary rather than creating a “vertical seam,” which weakens your structure.

Building the wall

Don’t be afraid of break rocks to fit better, though I did reduce a couple to useless chips with the sledge hammer. It took some time, but I am happy with the result.

Finished retaining wall


Sunday, February 24th

A heavy, wet snow began falling in the afternoon. Sometime after dinner (yay!) the power went out. This is unusual, but not a huge concern as it typically comes back after an hour or two. We retired to bed for the evening.

Monday, February 25th

I woke in the wee hours, as usual, and the power was still out. I looked out the window, and it was dark all over town and the snow was still falling. I carefully went downstairs to use the bathroom, and gaze at the rare snow covering everything. I was looking out the window at the end of the living room just as a huge spruce branch crashed down on our carport, making a very loud noise. Karen called out “Are you okay?” I replied “That wasn’t me. A limb crashed down.”

I went back to sleep until about sunrise, just as it was light enough to see. Branches and trees that accumulated snow had come down. I later learned that this was true almost everywhere throughout the county.

Spruce branch piercing the carport roof.

About the time Karen came downstairs, with the power still out, I realized that we needed to get a fire going. The inside of the house was 55 degrees. Our vivarium pump and heater had stopped, and we were concerned about the fish. We also needed a way to heat water so we could have COFFEE. I dressed in winter clothes and boots and made the trek to gather some wood stored under the carriage house, which was dry. I shortly had a roaring fire going which began to warm the living room. We left the rest of the house closed, as there was no way we could heat the whole thing.

During this time there was a lull in the snowfall. We shoveled the driveway and tossed the large tree debris to the side so that Karen could drive to the street, which had ruts from vehicles enough that the car could be driven. She returned after about 45 minutes with COFFEE from Dutch Bros.

Shortly after she returned it began snowing hard, again.

About noon, I put a pan on the stove and we made grilled cheese sandwiches. The room had warmed to about 65 degrees.

Making lunch on our wood stove.

Our power returned about 3 p.m. We and the fish were happy. Our cat couldn’t care less.

Tuesday, February 26th

Roseburg was pretty much completely shut down. We spent some time assessing the situation in our yard. There was a lot of damage to shrubs and trees. Some were completely destroyed.  

Small cedar tree laying down on the patio. Sad.

The snow stopped falling in the afternoon. We cleared the driveway again. We went to my workplace and found that our offices (in the basement) had “flooded” with about 2 inches of water.

Wednesday, February 27th

We hunkered down, as power was still out in most areas around us, and both of our workplaces were still not operating.

Lots of branches that were broken and fell.

Thursday, February 28th, Friday, March 1st

I went to work to assess the damage. The carpet had been removed, leaving the tough glue that held it down. There were blowers and dehumidifiers running. It was really loud, and I stayed for about half of each day.

Not much was accomplished other than just assessing the condition of equipment.

Most of this Privet is now on the ground. I ended up taking this completely out.

Monday, March 4th

The next week we began a long, long process of replacing damaged equipment (mostly UPSes that lived on the floor) and getting the workplace functional again for our staff. We moved out of the basement about the beginning of June.

Garden RGS Construction – Part 2

Survey and Layout

Now that I have gotten closer to civilizing the yard, I started to lay out the garden railroad. I started by putting in stakes every 20 feet to correspond with my plan. Using ground marking paint, I painted lines between those stakes.


Here, the yard is more under control, and I have added rocks along what I think are the retaining walls for the garden area. I also have stakes in key track points: the limit points of curves and points where the track crosses the grid.

Key track locations and walls marked

Building Paths

The rocks/retaining walls also delineate the area where I’ll build paths. This requires leveling and grading the ground – and I’ll do it all by hand. (This is my exercise program!) I decided that I would attempt to make all paths at least 4 feet wide, so two people can easily pass one another.

Lower path under construction

Upper path from “top” end

Upper path from “bottom” end

For the paths, we got a pallet of flagstone. This is from Idaho, and has some great natural colors of gray, orange and rust. (Notice that our native basalt is various shades of dark gray, and pretty boring looking!)

Palette of flagstone

I believe that I can use just sand as bedding for the stones on the upper path, because the ground is pretty good. The lower path is very much clay (black mud), so I will have to add about 1 inch of gravel to prevent the stones from being push into the ground when walking on them during the rainy season. Edit: Ha ha. Not so much. A day after I watered the path to settle it, it was as squishy and soft as the lower path. Gravel everywhere!

This is all an experiment to see what works. Nothing will be permanently cemented in place, so the garden is changeable. We want to be able to grow something between the stones, such as Irish Moss, so I’m leery of using too thick a gravel base.

Garden RGS Construction – Part 1

I have been working for a couple of years to get a long-neglected part of my yard in shape to build a new garden railroad. About three years ago, I began to use herbicide to eradicate the massive amount of ivy that had taken over a couple thousand square feet of the yard. This is what I had about 1 year ago: most of the ivy was sickly or gone, with a mess like this still in part of the yard.

July 2017

August 2017

After more than a year of cutting brush and filling the weekly trash can with debris, I have a clear enough space to lay out a grid and mark where tracks and walls will go.

Laying out the Railway

I placed stakes on 20-foot intervals corresponding to my plan. Marking paint connects the main grid markers. Then I staked out the limits of track, especially the limits of curves, and placed rocks along the proposed retaining walls so we (my wife) could visualize what the final product will be. (“It’s going to be THAT BIG?”)

Laying out the Railway – Revised

Taking her helpful advice about the size of my planned pike I moved everything back five feet. I lost 30 feet of mainline but gained a happier wife. You can see that over the weekend I started some excavation with a shovel. (This is my exercise program!)

Helper District

This section of the rail road will probably require helper service.

Matterhorn Table

Ha ha. Actually I’m going to build a “table” section so I don’t have to put in a retaining wall, buy and move tons of soil and bury the base of my trees. I’ll build the Lizard Head return loop, the Matterhorn table section and add a temporary return loop – hopefully before the rains come this year.

Looking up the Grade

Like the real Rio Grande Southern, the mainline works hard to climb from Ridgway (about where the camera is), the lowest point on the pike, to Lizard Head (way up that orange line about 60 feet up the hill). The climb is about 8 feet vertically, so there is a nearly constant 2.5 to 3.0 percent grade all the way along the 380 foot mainline.

RGS Plan

Here is my planned version of my chunk of the Rio Grande Southern. I’m modelling the line from Vance Junction to Lizard Head. The towns of Ridgway and Rico are represented by storage or staging tracks.