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Lighting Up the Fields

Matt and Barbara Kannegaard are co-owners of RAM Specialists, a Miami-based company that has been instrumental in many improvements of the Bullion Plaza Museum over the past decade. Courtesy photo

When the county was working on the baseball fields in Claypool, they needed a manlift and asked if RAM Specialists could help erect the new sports lights. The answer: Of course.

“That’s a good community project, so we did that,” says Matt Kannegaard, co-owner of the Miami-based business. But instead of doing it the usual way, with the manlift, Kannegaard says, “we put the posts up from the ground, using a crane.” 

It was an ingenious technique that saved thousands on the installation. It also started the family-run company’s shift from mine maintenance into sports lighting installation. Since then, RAM Specialists have had a hand in lighting up Papago Fields, the University of Arizona tennis courts, and high schools all over the state. 

“It was a real good fit,” says Matt. “High-value jobs.” 

Project by project, RAM Specialists work with Musco, a lighting manufacturer that sells to sports venues around the world. Impressed by what he saw on the Claypool Little League installation, the Musco rep asked Matt if he’d work out of the area. 

“All my stuff is on rubber, I can drive it anywhere,” Matt says. That is, all his equipment is on wheels, so he can go wherever the jobs are.

They currently do between eight and 15 projects per year. RAM handles everything but the electrical. Installations have ranged from 80 feet to 160 feet, at Surprise Stadium. Matt has never visited the Musco factory in Iowa, but he still knows many employees at the manufacturing facility by first name. And Musco now uses Matt’s crane technique in their training video.

“It makes us feel good,” Matt acknowledges humbly. “As we go along, we identify other ways to make it go better.”

Another feel-good aspect of the sports lighting niche has been the opportunity to upgrade Miami High from its 1968 quartz halogen equipment to metal halide.

“We were able to salvage cross-arms from Sunnyslope High and light fixtures from Tolleson High for a 70% improvement in efficiency,” explains Luke Kannegaard, Matt’s son.  

“Far more superior lighting than what they have now,” Matt says.

Matt Kannegaard and son Luke both serve on the Bullion Plaza Museum Board of Directors, and in 2012 provided heavy equipment and labor to repaint the iconic building’s exterior. Courtesy photo

A Long-Term Partnership

Barbara Kannegaard, Matt’s wife, runs the office. “She is truly 51% of the business,” says Matt.

RAM Specialists currently runs with a team of eight – two in the office and six in the field. The company has been larger in the past. There were 42 on the team when they were building converters. 

“We’ve started up several mines in Montana and Arizona,” says Matt. “Those big projects are fun, but the profit margin is no better than what we’re doing now.”

Kannegaard first went into business in 1988 with a partner, making underground wood products for the mines — wedges, ladders, and a product called a breast board, part of a ground support system. That partnership dissolved, and Kannegaard retained the business. 

Today the RAM Specialists’ fleet of vehicles includes man lifts and cranes, a front-end loader, a bulldozer, a semi-truck, two truck-mounted cranes, boom trucks, and more. Running the equipment is Matt’s favorite part of the work; he spends about 80% of his time in the field. But he depends on Barbara’s work in the front office to make that possible.

“I’ve got a good business partner,” says Matt. “She’s able to field just about any issue.”

Barbara holds a controlling interest in the business. A Miami native, she and Matt met in high school and have been married since the summer of 1975. They have three grown children and a “herd” of grandchildren. 

Matt started as an engineer for Magma Copper Company. At age 20, he joined his brother in an underground mine in Utah. He worked in Bingham, in San Manuel, and on the #9 shaft in Superior. When he wasn’t employed in the mines, he worked as a carpenter, mechanic, and truck driver. 

In 1991 Matt was employed to reactivate and run the 500-yard in Superior — a timber yard for underground support structures. 

“They asked me if I knew anyone who would be willing to make blasting caps,” says Matt. 

Barbara was already there, doing office work, so Matt asked if she wanted to do it. 

“You don’t need an explosive handlers permit or anything,” Barbara reminisces. “I got the items together and sent them underground. Matt taught me.”

At first it was a very minor amount of work, but by year’s end the Kannegaard were sending seven cars of materials underground. 

Although he enjoyed getting the yard up and running, Matt much prefers to be his own boss. He and Barbara started RAM Specialists in 1999.

Despite their niche in sports lighting, RAM Specialists remain certified mine contractors and have worked for mines throughout the region. They also provide maintenance for the City of Globe. They’ve worked on the sewage treatment plant and oxygen ditches, have welded water lines, and have rebuilt and installed equipment. They’re currently contracted to rebuild two of the city’s clarifiers at the wastewater treatment plant. 

How do they know how to do all this stuff?

“There are manuals,” Matt laughs. “Books that tell you how to do it.”

Though Matt isn’t thinking about retirement, he’s moving to the less physical part of the operation.

“What I would like to do now is watch my son’s life grow,” he says.

Luke Kannegaard has followed in his parents’ footsteps in the family business. Photo by Yevette Vargas.

A Son in the Business

For Matt, having his son Luke working in the business is “beyond satisfying,” and he’s confident he’s ready to take the reins. 

“He has ideas that could potentially change the way RAM does things. He’s an inventive person, technologically in touch.”

Luke’s been working at the shop since age 12 or 13. He started out sweeping floors and sorting nuts and bolts.

“I have a lot of memories in the big warehouse behind the shop, rebuilding different pieces of equipment,” says Luke, now 37. “I remember seeing stuff coming in looking old and going out looking newer.”

One of his earliest best memories is a work trip to the Climax molybdenum mine in Colorado. On a break from school, he got steel-toed boots, a vest, and a hard hat and traveled with his father to Colorado to tear down an old hoist house. Luke’s job was to crawl through the concrete tunnels and pull out the electrical wires.

“For me it was an amazing adventure, a perfect replication of my backyard play,” Luke says. 

He also fell in love with heavy equipment. When he enrolled in the army, he wanted to be a tank operator. Luke was finishing his university studies in computer drafting and design and IT technology when he got called for training. The recruiter gave him a chance to pick a different job and complete his degree. 

“I found an enjoyment that I didn’t know I would have,” Luke says. 

He chose to become an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operator. In civilian parlance, a drone pilot. As a UAS operator, Luke provided troop support in Iraq – forward eyes, overhead and periphery surveillance, target battle damage assessment. 

After his military service, he went with Matt to build a copper mill, and the two have worked together ever since. 

Luke has plans for employing drones in RAM Specialists as a tertiary component of the business.

“We just did a physical inspection of light poles at Surprise,” he says. “If we had drones and operators, we could have done it remotely and used the imagery to take measurements.”

Drones can be used for site inspection, to measure and survey to determine equipment needs, and for taking progress photos of large projects. 

“It helps tremendously on the safety side,” Luke says, “and there’s also cost efficiency.”

A professional drone costs $3,000 to $3,000. To rent the manlift to do the inspection at Surprise cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for one day.

Whole-Hearted Support

Luke shares his reflections on the business from a parking lot outside a valley hospital. His young son Åskar has just had an MRI and a biopsy as part of the follow-up from a heart transplant in June. Åskar was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart.

“I think everything will be okay,” Luke says through his father’s iPhone.

It’s an optimistic outlook for a family that has seen their son endure multiple open-heart surgeries and has overcome seemingly impossible odds to obtain a heart transplant in the first year and a half of his life. Luke acknowledges his friends and family as the source of his fortitude, as well as lots of local support within the community.

“The close friends that have been there to talk to, and that ask questions — ‘Hey, how’s it going?’” Luke says. “That kind of support has been invaluable to my ability to not give in to the stress and frustration and the odds we were against.”

A $50,000 Children’s Organ Transplant Association campaign is underway to help cover the family’s ongoing costs of travel for medical care. COTA has been a tremendous help to Åskar’s family, according to Matt. The support covers travel expenses for medical procedures, and any money donated will stay on Åskar’s account for the medical travel he’ll need throughout his life. A future that doesn’t seem to daunt 22-lb. Åskar

“He has an attitude that is unbelievable,” Matt says. “You walk in and he’ll just light you up.”

You can donate toward Åskar’s medical travel expenses at https://cota.org/campaigns/COTAforAskarsFight.

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