Front Yard Remodel Part 1

This weekend we ripped out a railroad tie retaining wall that was in our front yard. When we bought our home a few years ago it was there, holding up a portion of our yard. We assume that the retaining wall had been there for about 30 years or so since our house was built in 1985. Thankfully for us the majority of them were at least partially rotten because let me tell you eight foot long railroad ties are heavy! 

We decided to remove the railroad tie retaining wall partially because it was slowly but surely rotting away but also because railroad ties contain creosote which isn’t a good thing to be soaking into your soil especially if you are planting anything that is edible near them such as blueberry bushes etc. Our grand plan is to replace the old retaining wall with a rock wall and then create an amazingly delicious and wonderfully appealing edible landscape in our front yard. 

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I ripped out about 1/2 of the wall on my own while Jon went and got his company’s dump truck. When he returned we went down the line loading railroad ties into the back of the truck and raking up the small pieces since a lot of them were rotten. The hardest area to tackle was the section where the two walls meet at a 90 degree angle (shown in the 3rd picture below). Railroad ties were wedged into each other and there’s three trees lining that area along with a cable box and some sort of other electrical box of sorts. 

For the majority of the retaining wall I just used a short handled flat headed shovel to pry the railroad ties up and away from the bank. Thankfully for us (the people ripping it out) who ever built this wall didn’t rebar the ties together or do anything extra to help them stay in place permanently besides just stacking them on top of each other so that plus that fact that many of them were rotten, this wall was relatively easy to remove. 


  • Call your local dump at least a few days ahead of time to see what their requirements are for dumping railroad ties. In Kitsap County, Washington State we had to get a special permit ahead of time from them and also make sure that none of the railroad ties exceeded 8 feet in length.

  • Wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, gloves and safety glasses. The creosote in the railroad ties can be sticky and will rub off on anything it comes in contact with.
  • When all is said and done, wash the clothes you wore during this project separately.
  • A flat headed shovel worked great for me, Jon preferred using a pickaxe on the stubborn ones.
  • If you have access to a dump truck that can be very helpful because otherwise you’ll have to unload the ties one by one at the dump.
  • Remove and dispose of the soil that previously surrounded the railroad ties and replace it with some fresh soil.

Next, we are installing a rock retaining wall in it’s place so stay tuned for pictures and a post on that! Our front yard is this year’s project for us. 

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  1. Shaylee Salmon says:

    Good call, those railroad ties aren’t the most appealing things, I hope when I have Retaining Walls Birmingham take out my wall, that they replace it with something better. I’ll have to show them this article, thanks!

  2. Beverly Blalock says:

    Thank you so much. Daughter’s yard from when her grandmother lived there has a retaining wall that must be at least 20 years old and rotting! It’s become a safety hazard for the children. I am ordering a pickax right now! Thanks again for posting.