“Flyover Country.” This is the name given to the Midwest by our east and west coast counterparts. The name doesn’t possess any negative connotation but it does a great job describing a part of the United States that is crisscrossed by countless transcontinental flights connecting our coastal populations. A large number of these individuals may never see this part of the country. And for those that do, it may only be from behind a car window along our sterile interstate system.
The Mississippi River cuts “Flyover Country” almost perfectly in half from north to south. Just a few miles east of the river’s eastern shore in Atlas, Illinois, Cameron Brown has built the most beautiful hangar I’ve seen to date. It’s just a shame that so few will ever get to see it with their naked eye.
I met Cameron a couple years ago. Ironically enough, my now 8-year-old son’s classmate was the connection. Through an off-the-cuff remark about flying at a school picnic, I would find myself two years later on a field trip of my own from Rockford Airport in northern Illinois to Bowling Green, MO just west of Atlas to visit Cameron’s newly constructed hangar, humbly named “Cam-A-Lot.” As the name jokingly implies, the structure and its stonework resembles a modern day castle and a whole lot of hangar in the heart of the Midwest.
Our departure from KRFD was typical for a warm summer morning in the Midwest. Just as the sun popped up, a low layer of fog appeared. We filed an IFR flight plan and launched through the 300-foot bases only to be met with bright sun and blue skies above the 200-foot thick layer. The fog burned off by the time we were over Peoria and it was clear and a million the rest of the way to H19.
After landing, being greeted by two, very friendly yellow labs, and putting the Bonanza away in a hangar, we headed off to his childhood home just across the river in Atlas. Cameron grew up in this area with access to thousands of acres of land for exploring and hunting. His sharp eye would serve him well later in life when he served as a sniper in Vietnam. Upon returning home from the war, he began working and eventually became a successful businessman and serial entrepreneur. Today, he heads Sage Technologies in Rockford and Stark Brothers Nurseries in Louisiana, MO (On the river between Bowling Green, MO and Atlas, IL.)
The Mississippi River is buffered by a flood plain nicknamed, The Bottoms. Cameron’s home is on the last square inch of flat land before his backyard steeply rises in elevation to the bluffs above. It is a beautiful setting with the home serving as the property’s centerpiece since 1818.
The main farmhouse has a wrap-around porch with Chilton stone accents. The structure itself is magnificent and is only outdone by the newly erected monolith behind it to the northeast. The footprint of the hangar is not your typical square or rectangle. It actually has two rectangular wings that join together at an angle. The end result actually yields three primary areas to the structure.
The southeast wing is a garage large enough for multiple cars, tractors, RVs, and boats that could be stored simultaneously. Multiple garage doors and personal doors grant access from the outdoors. The garage is complemented by a second story and is currently being used to store personal items, artwork collected during war and peacetime travels to southeast Asia, and items from more recent travels to Africa.
On the other end of the building is the actual hangar. This is a mirror image of the garage albeit with a vaulted ceiling and no second level storage room. The hangar offers 2,580 square feet of usable space. Like the garage, it too, yields access from a personal service door, garage door, and its primary feature, a very robust single-panel hydraulic door that opens almost the entire back wall up to the bluffs behind the hangar. Currently, the hangar is home to a Ping-Pong table, small fishing boat, and a basketball hoop but plans are in the works to store a Husky or Cub within its walls in the very near future.
The finish work showcased in the garage and hangar is exquisite. No steel or wood support beams are visible as everything is covered with traditional sheetrock. Heat is supplied by a combination of radiant floor heat and ceiling mounted gas-fired radiant heat tubes while standard A/C cools the interior all summer long. Multiple bays of T-8 fluorescent lights provide lighting.
The third area is that of the great room that acts as a hub between the hangar and garage. This room is large enough to cater events and doubles as a trophy room that tastefully exhibits kills from his African hunting safaris. Creature comforts are everywhere with full wet bar featuring a beautiful, custom-made concrete countertop. Two zebra skins flank the sitting area with a floor to ceiling stone fireplace serving as the room’s primary focal point. Just off the great room is a bathroom fit for kings featuring a complete walk-in, tile surround shower that can spray the bather from head to toe with multiple showerheads. And if the shower isn’t enough, there is a full sauna.
The exterior is just as beautiful as the interior and coordinates with the farmhouse and other outbuildings with its Chilton stone quarried from Chilton, Wisconsin. Arts and crafts fixtures along with a red steel roof finish off the presentation of the hangar. Rumors suggest the huge, red roof has become an unofficial navaid for area pilots.
It’s not so much the size of the structure that is so impressive. It is the attention to detail, the quality of the woodwork, and the overall craftsmanship that went into the project. The person behind it all was Ryan Luecke. Many weeks and months were spent drawing on paper napkins and vetting various design concepts and layouts. Once the final idea was complete between Ryan and Cameron, the concept was handed over to Jeff Day Architect so that official blue prints could be drawn up.
Ryan and Cameron broke ground in December 2011. The project would exercise every trade discipline one could imagine with the building’s framework consisting of mostly wood. Steel was also used and in some cased, the steel beams were so massive that performance limits of the local trucks and cranes positioning the beams in place were almost exceeded. Ryan summarized the project best saying, “We ramped up construction in February and I have to admit by June I caught myself wondering if we would ever get this puzzle of a building together, but as time past the pieces started to come together. We had to deal with some flooding and hold-ups that are always expected on a project this big. I would say the construction was 18-20 months start to finish with about 50-75 days of downtime.”
The hangar has become a showpiece and primary bullet point on Ryan’s resume. His shoulder has been tapped several times by others wanting to utilize his talents on projects of similar size and scope. However, for the near term, I think Cameron has more projects coming Ryan’s way so the others may have to wait awhile.
Next time you are flying over “Flyover Country” and are crossing the Mississippi River about 30 miles southeast of Quincy, Illinois, be sure to look for the red steel roof of Cam-A-Lot. You can’t miss it.
Facts and Figures
Construction Start Date and Duration – December 2011 and lasted 18-20 months
Architect – Jeff Day Architect
Builder – Ryan Luecke
Total Square Footage – 9,160 Square Feet
Square footage by rooms
- Garage: 2,400 Square Feet
- Loft Above Garage: 1,200 Square Feet
- Bathroom, Sauna, Changing Room, Workshop, Hallway, Maintenance/Utility Room: 630 Square Feet
- Trophy Room: 1,600 Square Feet
- Hangar: 2,580 Square Feet
- Secondary Hallway and Other Work Space: 450 Square Feet
- Heat Source – Radiant Floor Heat
- Hangar and Garage also receive ceiling mounted, gas fired radiant heat
- Garage Doors – Raynor, 16’ wide by 10’ tall
- Hangar Door – Hi-Fold Door Corporation, 40’ x 13’ Single Panel Hydraulic