Choosing Railroad Timbers for Your Retaining Wall

As winter’s chilled hand loosens its grip, many homeowners are already looking forward to getting their hands dirty with the season’s first plantings. This is the time of year when yard renovations take over your life and become the primary topic of conversation with neighbors, coworkers and friends. In fact, after thinking on it all winter long, you have finally decided that this is the year you’re going to install that retaining wall you’ve always thought would add that little extra “something” to your yard’s design. Here, we’ll take a look at one of the most popular choices of materials you can use to make your ideal retaining wall – railroad timbers.

Railroad timbers, or sometimes called cross ties, are specially-treated lengths of wood that used to be used for building the nation’s railroads. This was before the railroads began replacing them with concrete ties. These thick lengths of wood are treated with a chemical called creosote which helps to prevent them from rotting. Creosote-soaked timbers can last for years exposed to the elements.

If you want to use railroad timbers in the construction of your retaining wall, you will have to find a reputable contractor from who to purchase them. They are usually not found in regular hardware stores, and don’t even think about taking them if you notice a bunch near the railroad tracks (it’s both dangerous and illegal). If you need help finding a seller, ask your local landscapers or building supply stores, or visit a nearby railroad yard.

Keep in mind that railroad ties are already heavy pieces of lumber, but when treated with creosote, they can weigh over 100 pounds each! Make sure you have someone on hand to help you move the timbers and always practice proper lifting techniques.

The other key things to remember when choosing railroad timbers are to look for ones in good condition with no major cracks or splits, and to make installation easier, try to get ones comparable in size. Also, it’s important to wear gloves when working with creosote-treated timber. A cut or splinter can easily result in an infection that takes a longer than expected time to heal.

Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, NJ. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.