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Great Wall project - First phase

The Great Wall project (work in progress):

Hello readers,

What you are looking at above is our current work in progress.  Although it is yet to be completed, this photo represents hundreds upon hundreds of hours worked.  While a major portion has been completed there is still so much more to come.
Grab yourself a snack and a drink, and come with us through the evolution of this project...

Here we are, a fresh start.  This was the condition of our not yet beautiful backyard when we purchased our home in 2015.  The lot we reside on was the last available by the builder in this neighborhood.  It seems pretty obvious why doesn't it?  This was no matter to us, we could see the future of it and knew we had found a diamond in the rough.  Let's start getting rid of the rough part though, shall we?

First phase:

When we started we did not fully know what we had gotten ourselves into.  We knew there was more than weeds and clay on that wall and the only way to clear it was by hand.  So we did.
Out with shovel and mattock in hand we began the journey of digging out the middle layer.  At the time I wanted to just have something a bit safer for the kids to climb around on.  And I couldn't help but notice there might be enough space on it for an outdoor table set.  At the same time I needed to ensure the dangerous creatures that could claim this as their home were re-routed elsewhere.  We later came to find out the worst of the worst was one Black Widow and more Centipedes than can be counted.

This first phase took only a few weeks, going at an hour or two a day after work.  Nothing hard, shovel goes in, dirt/clay gets thrown down.  We accumulated a hefty pile of dirt on the ground level and that obviously couldn't stay there.  So, what to do with it now?  I had mentioned earlier that this was the last lot by the builder, but that was only the case because they sold off the other six remaining lots to another builder so they could close the book on this development.  I began taking wheelbarrow loads to another empty lot and dumping there.  The lot in question had a major need for fill as it was essentially an endless slope that stops at mature trees.  This is the type of lot where you don't want to fall down, simply because you wouldn't stop rolling until the trees stopped you.
As we painstakingly transferred load after load I began to notice that much of what I'm moving contains construction trash / materials.  I learned soon after that all previous lots were graded by pushing extra materials our way.  Being the last lot meant we got it all.  So many 'treasures' to be found!

Taken from an upstairs window to show progress:

The wheelbarrow method quickly proved to be the wrong choice.  Even a heaping full load would only put a tiny dent in the work we had.  This wasn't our way out, it couldn't be.  I then turned to Craigslist to see if there were any independent contractors available that operate a bobcat.  Turns out there are several choices.  We worked a deal and had the remaining mound scooped and hauled away, there was approximately a tandem dump truck loads worth.  And it was hauled off to a separate off-site fill location.
First phase is now done, right?  Well... Almost.  The bobcat DESTROYED the existing lawn and I also now had much more flat backyard than previously and none of it had grass.  This is detrimental to a clean home when you have kids in and out, not to mention the big dog that often enjoys the nice cool mud...

Second phase
Third phase
Fourth phase


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Great Wall project - Fourth phase

Fourth phase:
We made some mistakes.  We decided to wait through another winter season before attempting to retain that which we just cleared out.  I don't know why, but I just believed that as difficult as that clay was to remove that it just wouldn't move that much on it's own.  Just look at how wrong I was:

We should have either kept working, or put some sort of moisture barrier up there to stop the clay from eroding down.
None of that was done, and instead I came close to losing my fence due to the erosion.  Not only that but now our cleared out work area is again filled over with clay.  Since this is not acceptable we were given the choice of digging it and throwing it uphill to where it would eventually rest behind the retaining wall, or dig it off to the side and then later throw it back over.  I wanted to toss it uphill, I really did.  Why move it twice?  Too bad it was wet and insanely sticky.  We had to move it to the side, a shovelful of that wet clay is easily …