Lively Lad

Trail clearance workers and volunteers, of a “certain age,” may be familiar with the term “Lively Lad.” Sometimes the name is erroneously given to the modern weed cutter that looks more like a golf club with a serrated blade attached. No, the original Lively Lad was a substantial tool with a very sharp blade ( about a foot in length) capable of trimming to the ground brush, young trees, and stubborn weeds. It could also wreck boot toes, and if you grew fatigued or careless cut toes. Wielding the Lively Lad with vigor was something you detailed to young men and women who thought they were in prime condition. Then you just strolled behind them with your nippers and watched them wear themselves out.

I was introduced to the Lively Lad in the 1970’s when I joined a group of hikers clearing a long trail in Southeastern Massachusetts. The Warner Trail runs between suburban Boston and suburban Providence. The people who laid it out following the Second World War were in no hurry to get anywhere on their hikes, so they cleared a trail that wandered from a high viewpoint to stream, to a high point. The trail meandered through what was then woodlots, farms, and orchards. The suburban sprawl was to come much later.

 With all this meandering, there was a lot of trail to clear on an annual basis. The Lively Lad was a labor saver, but a hazardous one. We were all members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the “Appie” who introduced me to the Lively Lad used the term perfidious to describe it. He then set me to be one of the expendable youngsters assigned to swinging it while he idled along behind snipping once in a while, or calling out “watch your toes now!”, or “not so much force.” The Lively Lad in question was his and dated from the mid-1920s. He had been one of the youngsters assigned to swing the beast while working on trails around Mount Katahdin in Maine. Ron survived long enough to pass the toe slicing duties on to subsequent generations.

When Ron died, his trail clearance equipment got passed onto those of us who regularly cleared the trail. Every spring, it would appear in the back of someone’s truck or in the trunk of a leader’s car. A debate among the leaders would take place – do we need IT? Then the leaders would look around the group that showed up to clear trail to see how many were under forty. If the overgrowth was heavy and we had enough strong bodies with unsuspecting minds, we’d pull out the Lively Lad.

Over the years, it came out fewer and fewer times.

Just today, I found an e-bay auction for a Lively Lad. The description was very brief, and I suspect the owner had little idea of what he was selling.

But the buyer should check the blade for traces of blood and leather from boot toes.

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