Empowering Oregon kids by teaching them classical skills
written by Mark Stock | photography by Joni Kabana
Tucked away in an inconspicuous building on Main Street in Newberg is a small trade school bringing Wild West ingenuity back to the Willamette Valley. The Anvil Academy teaches at-risk youth the seemingly dated skills of stagecoach building, blacksmithing, jewelry making, leatherwork, metal spinning, woodturning and sewing. Classes in bow-making and the art of wheelwright are coming soon.
The Academy started in early 2016, but the impetus came much earlier. “Really, it started twenty years ago when I met a guy who came out of the highest level of the aerospace industry,” said Anvil co-owner and teacher Rob Lewis. “He said that the kids coming out of college could draw anything on a computer, but they had never drilled a hole in a piece of metal.”
A student won Best in Show at the Oregon State Fair for his quarter-scale mud wagon. These smaller, lighter, open-sided stagecoaches took on bumpy backroads amid bad weather, able to zigzag up and down the many mountain ranges of the American West.
Lewis said the kids are what keeps Anvil’s wheels rolling. “College is not for everyone, and a lot of kids have an aptitude for what we do, even though initially they have no idea they may be good at something.”
Anvil’s coaches take about three months to build, on par with the factory-built versions during their heyday. Every April, the Academy hosts the largest horse-drawn vehicle auction on the West Coast at Yamhill County Fairgrounds, with proceeds benefiting youth education programs.