precast concrete blocks retaining wall Vancouver, BC

Ok, admit it. As a kid you loved playing with Lego, and as an adult, whenever you see one of those little Danish blocks, you get a little nostalgic.

Unless, of course, you have small children who leave them lying around for the dog to eat, or you step on one in the middle of the night, then you’re maybe not so happy to see it (especially if it’s just finished making it’s way through Fido) But I promise you, if that’s you, you will one day remember these little plastic bricks fondly.

At the recent World of Concrete (WOC), my intrepid GM and good friend, Jamie, and I wandered around the Las Vegas Convention Center like all the other concrete professionals; that is to say, like kids in a candy store.

This time, though, we were there for 3 specific things: To meet with representatives of the National Precast Concrete Association (See my NPCA plant certification post for more on that); to look at mixers – we had already decided to upgrade the plant using the same Elk River Agromix mixer we had (only larger), but we wanted to confirm that we had made the right choice by looking at the other available mixers; and to talk to Rick Ianolo from TerraStone about becoming a licensee.

Terrastone is a large retaining wall block – think Lego! – and as a Danish kid, I of course can’t be a precaster without wanting to make some kind of block. Yet for some reason, we’ve been at this for 25 years and we never got around to making a retaining wall block.

(and for the record, I was born in Denmark, but I’m Canadian; I’ve lived in the Vancouver, BC area for almost 50 years now – but that doesn’t mean I don’t love Lego! And cheese! and beer…)

Prior to going to the WOC, I spent some time looking into larger blocks. United Lock Block makes the original big block. Jay Drew, the founder and my father worked together at Lafarge in the 70’s. Jay had an idea to create forms that held a yard of concrete and give them to Ready Mix companies to help them get rid of their returned concrete. the resulting block was engineered by Jay as a very large retaining wall block that he could market and the ready mix companies no longer had to worry about what to do with their excess concrete. It was brilliant in it’s simplicity and it’s solution to an existing problem.

Since then, there have been a number of imitators of the original Lock Block, and many other smaller machine made blocks have come onto the market. There wasn’t really a lot of mid sized blocks, though. Blocks that were big enough to be considered a Big Block, but small enough to be moved around with a Bobcat or a mini excavator.

And that’s where StoneTerra comes in. The blocks are 2′-0 x 4′-0, and tapered towards the back to allow curved walls, and they weigh in at 1700 lbs vs the 4200 lbs of the standard Big Block.

I was really attracted to the block by it’s size – we did not want to try and compete with Lock Block or the smaller machine made blocks directly, we wanted to look at an under served part of the market – the middle.

I also knew that ASTM has been working on specifications for large retaining wall blocks that would possibly excluded returned concrete in the blocks. This would not affect many of the users, but some would require blocks made from fresh concrete – here use the ASTM quote and site – the ready mix companies that owned their own block forms would be affected, but United Lock block wouldn’t. Why? I told you earlier, Jay’s a smart guy – he makes his own concrete now, so you can get Lock Blocks that have new concrete and you can get blocks with returned concrete.

We will only make blocks with new concrete. We have a source – our own plant – and we’re looking at a different type of wall; slightly smaller blocks with a stone face on them.