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Those who Play Together Stay Together

Author Photo
By Staff

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'The “working” sides of Mike and Kevin’s engines (right) and the guys (below) at the 2006 Stover Reunion, Freeport, Ill. '
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'Kevin and Mike treat their wives, respectively, Mary (left) and Janet, like queens. Here they are decked out in pink accessories at the 2006 Portland, Ind., swap meet. These, by the way, were to go with the pink flamingo lights the men bought them. '
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Far left: Mike at the Macon (Missouri) Engine Show recording his engine running on Kevin’s answering machine.
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Left: Mike and Kevin at the rainy 2006 Portland swap meet. When their fire started to die down a blow-dryer got it going again.
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Below: Kevin and Mike at the 2004 Root & VanDervoort Reunion.
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Left: Kevin and Mike having a start-up contest with their Handy Andy engines in Portland. Shoving is evidently allowed in this competition.
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Above: The guys set up shop in Portland.
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Right: The sign Kevin made for the Healy and Hembrough trading post.
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Right: Fishing on the pond at Mike’s house.
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Above: Mike and Kevin having a “discussion” about an engine at the Prairie Land Show (Illinois).

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.

Kevin had grown up with antique cars, tractors and gas engines
all his life; to him it was not just a hobby. His dad started
picking up engines for $2 and up in the early 1960s. “It got to the
point that I would check the bed of the truck after school to see
if we had a new find,” Kevin says.

Behind every good man …

A few years after meeting, Mike and Kevin both found the loves
of their life, who luckily supported their engine habits. Gas
engine shows were even a part of Kevin and Mary’s courtship: They
had to wait for the show directory to come out before they set a
wedding date. “You know, you couldn’t hit a show date that year,”
Kevin says. “Also, on our honeymoon I was told I couldn’t stop any
more for engines – this was after I took three detours!” Yes,
hobbyist’s wives have to put up with a lot, from grease-smudged
sinks to paint fumes in the house, from magnetos being rebuilt on
the kitchen table to how to buy another engine when the budget is
tight. But these are dedicated women. “Without our wives, Mike and
I would always be late and lost because we never ask for
directions,” Kevin says.

One of Mike’s strongest memories is of Mary and Kevin showing up
at his parents’ house with newborn twin boys, Richard and Ryan.
“The twins were dressed alike in bib overalls and looked like they
were ready for a gas engine show,” Mike recalls. Several years
later, the Hembroughs missed a show because Mary was due that
weekend with their daughter, Megan. “Mary always says she told
Kevin they could have come because their daughter wasn’t born until
later that week,” Mike says.

The families are so close that the Hembrough children have an
“Uncle Mike” and “Aunt Jan.” The Hembroughs have always called
Janet “Jan,” as Kevin with his forgetful memory told Mary that
Mike’s new girlfriend’s name was Jan – it was all he could
remember. “She didn’t tell us until years later that we were the
only ones who call her Jan,” Kevin says. “Now Janet just seems too
formal a name.”

Name calling

Mike and Kevin call each other weekly, and Mike is often
referred to as Kevin’s girlfriend when he calls at 6:30 a.m., as
Mary is leaving for work. And if Mike can be called Kevin’s
girlfriend, it is only fair to mention that Kevin has been called
Mike’s dad. While the two were unpacking at the Portland, Ind.,
spring swap meet and getting ready to sell, a man approached and
looked at Kevin’s parts and then at Mike’s. “He told me that my
dad’s prices were sure higher,” Mike says. Without missing a beat,
Kevin says Mike responded with, “Yeah, you gotta watch that old
man.” They couldn’t make eye contact because they knew they would
have lost it. “Every year now I send my ‘dad’ a Father’s Day card
and tease him about being older than me when actually he’s
younger,” Mike says.

The joke’s on them

These two have their share of running jokes. A few years ago,
Mike started calling Kevin from shows, leaving messages on his
answering machine of his engine running just to aggravate him.

Once, Mike tripped and accidentally threw rice all over a new
car parked outside a Chinese restaurant. “The old expression about
not crying over spilled milk didn’t apply here,” Kevin says. “We
laughed so hard we all cried. Just the thought of Mike half flying,
half falling with rice going everywhere still makes us laugh.”
Kevin says what he did next almost ended their friendship:

“I cooked rice and let it dry for two days,” he says. “I
included a note from the restaurant saying that they were sorry for
the loss of the rice and wanted to help out in any way they could.
I even used the restaurant’s return address on the box. Little did
I know that two days on the kitchen counter will not completely dry
out rice, but three days in a box sure will turn it rancid. When
Mike and Jan opened the box, they were greeted with a smell that
filled their house and turned stomachs. Mike was going to ship it
back, but couldn’t because it stunk so bad. To this day, they don’t
laugh too much when I mention it!”

But despite their best attempts to make fun of each other, the
Hembrough’s large antique oak table is a favorite gathering place
for the couples to visit, tell stories, discuss engines and enjoy
Mary’s homemade pies, for meals, as Mike puts it. “At our house,
only strangers use the front door,” Kevin says. “We always start
the day off and end the day at this table, where no problem is too
big and much laughter is heard.” Kevin says Mike and Janet’s house
has the same feeling for them. “Mike likes when we visit because he
knows the coffee will be ready when he gets up,” Kevin says. “One
good thing about being food friends is that you don’t always have
to do extravagant things to have a good time. A simple drive
through the country and visiting are fun things to do with Mike and
Jan.”

All in good fun

Though Kevin and Mike have their own restoration adventures,
they work on restoring engines together for shows. When they
restored Handy Andy engines to show at Portland’s 2005 show, it
became a contest to see who could get their engine started first.
“It got funny as we started cranking, adjusting and laughing as we
tried to beat each other,” Mike says. “Kevin did win, but my engine
had the slickest paint job, so I had to let him win the starting
race.”

But in reality, the competition is all in good fun. “I think our
friendship has grown because we are not competing against each
other or jealous,” Kevin says. “Instead, we appreciate what each of
us has and we encourage each other.” There is never a shortage of a
helping hand with these two: While restoring the Handy Andys, they
pushed, prodded and poked fun at each other until they were both
finished. And there is always part-swapping going on. “Last spring
I bought a truckload of flywheels, blocks and bases,” Kevin says.
“Mike laughed and asked me how much scrap iron was worth. Guess who
needed a set of flywheels later on? Don’t think I let him forget
his comment!”

Sharing lives

Mike is still amazed at the fact that the hobby of old iron has
brought two families from two different states so close together.
“We’ve been to many gas engine shows, auctions, weddings of family
and friends, and funerals of loved ones,” Mike says. “We’ve headed
out on vacations together, attended baton twirling contests,
volleyball games and proms. We’ve celebrated anniversaries,
graduations and birthdays. We’ve laughed, cried and talked, sharing
memories as our lives entwined. Through it all, we’ve shared our
love of the gas engine hobby and have become family. Now with age,
our rivalry has gotten to be who has the best cholesterol
number!”

“The easiest way to describe us is like being two old farm
dogs,” Kevin says. “We’re glad to see each other, excited when
we’re on a new adventure, but also enjoy those days when nothing
happens at all. Just remember, despite anything Mike says, I can
still out fish him.” Mike says Kevin has yet to prove this fact to
him, but common bonds and laughter are what this hobby is all
about. “We both agree that if we lived closer together, we would
always be in the shop or fishing,” Kevin says. “Either way, our
wives probably wouldn’t like it as much.”

So the next time you see Mike and Kevin at a show, tell them
Erin from Gas Engine Magazine sent you. And tell them yes,
I do know there are working sides to engines.

Contact Kevin and Mary Hembrough at: 1319 Merritt Road,
Jacksonville, IL 62650
.

Contact Mike and Janet Healy at: 4262 County Road 121,
Fulton, MO 65251
.

Published on Apr 1, 2007

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines