'He loved the farm': A bitter harvest for family of youngest Humboldt Broncos victim

The future of the Herold family farm is uncertain following the death of their son, Adam, in the Humbolt Broncos bus crash.

This is the first harvest for the Herold family without their 16-year-old son Adam to help work on the farm

Russell Herold (right) had hoped his son Adam would take over the family farm after a successful hockey career. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

Following the death of his 16-year-old son in the Humbolt Broncos bus crash, Russell Herold is having trouble focusing on the harvest. 

His son, Adam, used to sit with him during 18-hour-work days driving a combine to harvest fields of red lentil and grain on the family's 3,500-acre farm near Montmartre, Sask.

This year, the buddy seat is empty, the days seem longer and Herold is worried about what will happen to the family farm without his son. 

Adam Herold was the third generation growing up on his family farm near Montmartre, Sask. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

"It's hard to put your heart and your mind into what you're doing," he said. "You're mentally drained every day."

Adam was killed on April 6, when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a semi-trailer, approximately 30 kilometres south of Nipawin, Sask. 

This is the first harvest season his parents, Russell and Raelene, are without him.

Raelene and Russell Herold have to harvest 3,500 acres without the help of their son, Adam. The sixteen-year-old was killed on April 6 in the Humboldt Broncos crash. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"It's just a constant reminder all day, every day that he was there," Russell Herold said of the harvest season. "He would've been driving that truck or he would've been cutting that crop."

"Now you think: what is the succession [plan] on your farm." 

'Where would've Adam pushed the farm?'

Russell and Raelene expected Adam would have a successful hockey career, then return to take over the family farm. Now, the farm's future is uncertain.

Adam Herold's parents say his favourite job on the family farm was driving the combine during harvest. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

Adam was the youngest of the 16 victims, and a newcomer to the Broncos.

He was only on the bus that fateful day because he was talented enough, as 16-year-old, to be called up to the junior hockey team to help the older players with their playoff run after his AAA season ended with the Regina Pat Canadians.

"What happens on your farm going forward?" wondered Herold. "Where would've Adam pushed the farm?"

This is one of Russell and Raelene Herold's favourite pictures of their son, Adam. It was taken after he won the prestigious Mac's Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament with the Regina Pat Canadians. They say it exemplifies exactly who he was: The captain of his team who didn't show off, but carried everyone's jerseys and Gatorade bottles with his medal tucked away. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

The semi-trailer driver involved in the collision, 29-year-old Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary, has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and 13 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily injury.

Family taking legal action

The Herolds are pursuing legal action against Sidhu, who they allege was inadequately trained by his employer, Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd. They allege Sidhu "intentionally, recklessly and/or negligently" drove his truck through the intersection without regard for its warning lights and stop sign. The bus had the right of way.

The family is also naming Adesh Deol Trucking as a co-defendant in their lawsuit because it allowed Sidhu "to drive a route that he had never travelled before." They're also suing the manufacturer of the Broncos team bus  — cited by lawyer Kevin Mellor as "John Doe Bus Manufacturer Ltd." — for making defective product . They say the roof detached, players were ejected and the bus lacked seatbelts or safety harnesses. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court. 

Russell Herold spends his 18 hour days thinking about his deceased son, Adam, while he is alone in his combine. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"It's about making changes," said Herold. "None of this is going to bring Adam back, I don't think any one in this province or this country needs to go through this again."

Named after his grandfather who bought the land in 1957, Adam would've been the third generation to take over the Herold farm. 

"He was a smart, humble kid who always had a smile," said Herold.

Russell Herold still scans the fields in search of moose and deer to remind himself of his son, Adam, who loved to spot wildlife. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"He was a good partner for me to have because he kept his dad on a straight and level and brought the best out of everybody. He could always could find a silver lining in everything he did." 

'He loved the farm and he'd want it to get done'

The Herolds have an older daughter, but the family is not sure she will return to the operations since she is studying business in university.

They say neighbours have come by to help, but every one is busy with their own work during harvest season. 

A flag for Adam Herold flies at half-mast on his family farm near Montmartre, Sask. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

It's no easy feat to gather bushels of grain, oil seeds, pulses and cereal without Adam, whose favourite job they say was to combine the fields. 

"You might get a little break here or there," Herold said of farming during the harvest. "Ten or 15 minutes, but I think of him every hour of the day ... You're so connected because you live where you work. Everything has a connection."

Russell and his son Adam Herold often went for long snowmobile rides together on their land. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

He is reminded of Adam everywhere he turns on the property from the silver grain bins that they built to the land that they snowmobiled on together during the winter.

Still, he carries on to honour his son. 

"You just think he loved the farm and he'd want it to get done so you just look at a picture of him and you just push through for this year," said Herold.

"Somehow, you get it done."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: