Those who Play Together Stay Together

Two and a half hours and nearly 140 miles can't separate a friendship rooted in old iron

| April 2007

I was at my very first big engine show in Freeport, Ill., last year, when I met Mike Healy and Kevin Hembrough. It was an extremely foreign world to me, but they made me feel right at home. They also didn't hesitate to point out my rookie status.

While I was taking photos, Mike asked me if I knew there were "working" and "non-working" sides to engines. (I must have looked like I didn't.) Nearly 10 months into this job, of course I knew that! But they taught me a great deal and Mike and his wife Janet were welcomed, familiar faces when I went to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I was inspired by these men, as they epitomized to me what this hobby means to so many people.

Clockwise from bottom left: Kevin and Mary Hembrough, Mike and Janet Healy, Kevin's son, Richard, and Kevin's dad, Richard.

Thirty years ago, a bond began between Mike, of Fulton, Mo., and Kevin, of Jacksonville, Ill., that has since faced the tests of time, distance, engine restorations, marriages, children, practical jokes and even tears. Today Mike and Janet, and Kevin and his wife, Mary, have a load of memories brought to them by the great hobby of old iron.

First memories

Their story, however, did not begin with a bang when Mike met Kevin's dad, Richard, and Emery Funk at the Missouri River Valley Show in 1977. "Emery started off the discussion by beating the top of my 850 Delco light plant with his cane," Mike says. The two men were admiring young Mike's engines and invited him to supper that night. Being relatively new to the hobby, Mike was excited to have the opportunity to visit more. Emery and Richard mentioned that Mike should head to the Prairie Land show in Jacksonville. Later that year he went, and it was to be the first trip of many.

It was in Jacksonville that Mike met Kevin, and his first memories are, of course, engine-related: "One engine he had was a Fairmont motor car engine," he says. "This engine was equipped with spark plugs in the exhaust pipe, which, when the controls are adjusted, would belt out fire on both sides of the engine." This was a great ice breaker for the two young collectors, as Mike also owned a Fairmont and later on in life would have an avid interest in spark plugs.