By Connor Lynch
RICHMOND — Eastern Ontario’s farm community lost one of its own last month.
Andrew Schouten, a 32-year-old Richmond cash crop farmer and machine-whisperer, sometimes known as the King of the Combine, died last month in a single-vehicle accident on March Road, west of urban Ottawa. He was coming home from a wedding reception for family friend and co-worker, Chris Dixon, at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.
Schouten farmed with his father Adrian and brother Brent.
A delegate for the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Schouten was no-nonsense in the field but liked to have fun. He was remembered at a North Gower tavern, the Marlborough Pub, where its outdoor sign read: “God bless Andrew Schouten.”
He split long hours in the combine with serving the local crop and soil association and helping out at the Richmond ag society, particularly for its fair. For this year’s fair, he organized its first truck and tractor pull.
The Schoutens are an extended lineage near Richmond, a small town southwest of Ottawa. Andrew was the third generation on the farm, bought by his grandfather Martin in 1955. On the home farm south of the town, young Andrew was never far from relatives. Andrew’s father, Adrian, was partners with his brother Arnold on the farm. Both farmers’ children were around the same age. Growing up side-by-side on the farm and through school, Andrew and his brother Brent were close friends with cousins Martin and Michael.
In high school, he’d be out late combining fields, never complaining the next day at school.
Andrew was gifted with machines of all kinds. At age eight, he insisted on assembling the family barbecue. He spent all night thinking about it, he told his mother. The next day, he sat down with the instructions and put it together in three hours. As a teenager, he built a cabin with a buddy that probably would’ve been up to code, said his younger brother Brent. Whenever the duo were building forts with their cousins, Andrew was first to pull out the power tools.
He briefly studied business after high school. But he wanted to be a farmer.
Schouten was a people-person. Quick with a joke and happy to talk, he was well-known and well-liked. Over 850 people came to his wake, said his mother Debra. He got involved with the local soil and crop association, as well as the Richmond ag society, organizers of the annual fair. Both were labours of love. Helping out with the fair was a Schouten tradition, and tradition was a big deal to Andrew.
Soil and crop was something of a different story. “ Managing the soil for future generations can be a difficult topic to get people engaged in. Organizations need fresh ideas and new people, and Schouten was happy to oblige.
Though he lived in the 21st century, his brother said he might have been happier in the mid-20th century. “Simple things, like calling a friend over for a drink were important to him,” Brent said. “I think, deep down, he was an old soul,” who believed in traditional values and “a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay.” He had a gift for old-fashioned conversation and spoke plainly and directly. Said Brent: “I think he wished he (was born) when people weren’t so sensitive, things were still made by hand and people were more down to earth.” Whenever the two talked, Brent made sure they had at least an hour; five minutes for Brent to talk, 55 for Andrew. Time in the field passed breezily with Andrew around. Said Brent: “Mostly Andrew talked and we laughed and listened. His stories were unbelievable.”
An accident in 2013 could not have been a bigger curveball for a man who prided himself on his independence and work ethic. Schouten was checking a grain bin on the evening of Dec. 8 after his cell phone alerted him of a malfunction. He climbed the bin to find that the limit switch had jammed. He knew the fix. He shut down the bin and stuck an arm in to unjam the switch. The mixing augurs kicked into gear. One auger caught him by the arm, cutting a vein, artery, and three nerves. He hit the kill switch and yelled for help. His co-worker Chris Dixon heard the cry and his father Adrian brought the equipment to cut him out. Incredibly, firefighters tackling a bush fire just happened to be nearby and also showed up. They cut him out of the bin and took him to the hospital.
Though left-handed, he never regained the use of his left hand.
The transition back to farm life was difficult. His father and family were there for him and he resolved not to give up. Two weeks after the accident, his uncle died. Schouten was nearly late for the funeral, having driven through a snowstorm. His mother asked what had kept him. Schouten said there were too many small buttons on his dress shirt, and he’d had a hard time getting into his suit.
The King of the Combine, as he was sometimes called, wasn’t interested in abdicating the throne. By June 2014, his left hand still wasn’t of much help, but Schouten was out planting. Said Brent: “He could be on the phone eating a plain sandwich with nothing else on it besides the meat, talking on the radio all at once even with one arm.”
An avid outdoorsman and sports fan who loathed sitting still, he had nearly everything he’d ever wanted.
Schouten is survived by his brother Brent, parents Debra and Adrian, and grandparents Donald and Heather Carson. The family, said his mother Debra, will always be grateful for the support and love that poured in from the community.