Las Vegas isn't exactly the kind of place that Newberg High School students Todd Halleman and Roehben Sarkisian would normally like to visit in the height of summer.
Their attitudes changed, however, when they were invited to attend the Association of Woodworkers & Furnishings Suppliers Fair because their entries had been accepted as finalists in student woodworking competitions that will be showcased there July 19-22.
Sarkisian, who has been learning under the tutelage of Rob Lewis at Anvil Academy in Newberg for the past 19 months, created a quarter-scale version of a historical stagecoach, which was selected as a finalist in the open category of the Fresh Wood student woodworking competition.
Halleman, who picked up woodturning after watching a viral video and bought his first lathe in August 2015, had two of his burl wood bowls selected for the functional category of the American Association of Woodturners' Turning to the Future Competition.
The pair knew each other growing up, as both showed livestock through 4-H at the Yamhill County Fair, but they didn't learn until recently that they had both gravitated toward woodworking and were up for national recognition.
"He's got some gorgeous bowls that he does," Sarkisian said. "I didn't know he was going, too. It's a separate type of thing but at the same place. He does really cool stuff."
Lewis, for one, is a big admirer of Sarkisian's work, both overall and specifically with his contest entry, which replicates a type of stagecoach known as a mud wagon, which were used for long journeys over difficult terrain, like mountain passes.
The specific wagon Sarkisian has modeled was built in the 1850s and was first used to make the mail run between The Dalles and Canyon City. After it was replaced for that job by a motorized vehicle, it stayed in use for stagecoach races and has remained in continual use annually as a part of the parade at the Pendleton Roundup.
"For him to get accepted is this huge thing," Lewis said. "For me, I never dreamed of having a kid that good. I think there is a really good chance he could take it."
What has really impressed Lewis is how Sarkisian has tackled all the challenges of building the wagon from the original design, as the actual coach has been modified and repaired almost to no end. And because he's working on a much smaller scale, many of the tools Sarkisian needs to fashion parts just don't exist, so he's had to fashion his own, like he did to create the wheel hubs.
"The kid's a prodigy," Lewis said. "He's a wiz. The coach is a jaw dropper. All the joinery in it is just incredible."
Sarkisian entered the wagon in the Wild West Art Show at the St. Paul Rodeo, taking second place.
"The lady there told me she could have sold it 1,000 times," Sarkisian said. "But it got second place to a knife."
Halleman said woodturning did not come naturally to him, but that changed when Oregon Association of Woodturners president Terry Gerros, who lives in Salem, decided to take him under his wing.
"He kind of got me started learning what to do and then gave me good information," Halleman said. "With his help, I've been able to get to where I am."
Halleman funds his woodturning hobby with the money he earns showing goats at the county fair because he does not sell his pieces. Instead, he donates them to Bowls for Good, a St. Petersburg, Fla., charity. He's already donated more than 50 bowls to date and has been told each donation provides about 140 meals for the homeless.
Winning would mostly be a big affirmation for Halleman because he does woodworking just for fun, but he and Sarkisian will also be exposed to numerous classes and demonstrations at the AWFS Fair, which is a large industry conference.
"I'll be talking to people, learning as much as I can," Halleman said. "I looked at the weather forecast and it's going to be like 110 degrees, so I'm going to try to stay in the air conditioning as much as possible."