FEATURED PROJECT: Retaining Wall and Staircase

Contractor John Martin of Lawn Enforcement LLC in Whitewater, WI, was feeling the effects of a soft landscape construction market no different than most contractors. When he had the opportunity to secure a $13,900 hardscape job for a longtime residential customer, he had to work closely with the client to stay within her budget. And, thankfully, he already had the equipment to get the job done efficiently.

Equipment Used: Bobcat MT50 mini track loader, 3’ wide bucket, Bradco backhoe attachment, Stone walk-behind compactor, Core Cut concrete saw from Diamond Products, Maxi-Dump trailer, Chevy 2500HD truck

Winning the Bid

“We always encourage our clients to get involved in the project planning process,” Martin relates. “Sometimes they even join in on the installation so they can save money and stay within their budget.”

That doesn’t mean Martin will hand the client a concrete saw or help him/her up on a skid loader. Rather, the client may lend a hand with some of the more basic, laborious tasks.

“This homeowner started the project for me by removing all of the existing stone from the old wall, in addition to pulling back the decorative stone and fabric,” Martin tells (Photo 1). “Post-project she replaced the plants and low-voltage lighting, filled in the decorative stone and repaired the lawn.” All of this helped the client save $3,000—helping Martin secure the job.

Redesign

The original wall and staircase was built back in the 1960s. Lacking pins and proper backfill, the wall continued to degrade over the years until it finally collapsed during a very wet spring in 2008. Due to the client’s limited budget, the rebuilding project had to be put on hold for a year.

“The client suggested rebuilding the wall exactly the way it was, but the natural stone made the stairs unsafe,” Martin points out. “Plus, the small width of the original block would not hold the soil back.”

Martin followed the same basic design the original installer had used, incorporating a few small changes along the stairs and lower wall.

“We lengthened and widened the stairs, and also made a couple of larger landings to bring the staircase out farther and hide some imperfections on the inside of the old concrete wall,” Martin explains. “We also curved the stairs around the end of the concrete wall to add some character. The base of the lower wall by the stairs was also curved.”

Martin used Google Sketchup during the design process, enabling him to view the project from any direction (Photo 2). After several changes from the original sketch, a final design was agreed upon with the client.

Construction

Martin’s work began with his Bobcat MT50 mini track loader, equipped with a 3-foot bucket and Bradco backhoe attachment, to excavate the site and remove excess soil; the soil was loaded into a Maxi-Dump trailer attached to a Chevy 2500 HD truck. (Photo 3).

After excavation Martin began placing concrete forms to aide in leveling the base material, which was compacted using a Stone compactor and a hand tamper (Photo 4).

“As the wall progressed, I brought in clean stone using my trailer,” Martin says. “Then I used my MT50 with bucket to begin filling in behind the wall.”

In constructing the wall, many of the blocks needed to be cut—mostly on the stairs and caps of the wall—so Martin used his Core Cut masonry saw. “I mounted the saw to a pallet,” he tells. “I use my MT50 with pallet forks to move the saw around the jobsite; it’s very stable on uneven ground.”

The Final Verdict

When it was all said and done, Martin had accrued 15 design hours and 125 labor hours, and used $4,700 worth of materials. He had a happy client who stayed within her budget—and a $14,000 wall he was also proud of.

Martin gives some of the credit to his mini track loader. “The biggest job I’d ever done hand shoveling was 12 tons of washed stone,” he relates. “I’d never hand shovel 12 tons ever again! I could not have done this job without my mini track loader.”

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