The Right Tool

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

It's an old adage in construction but nevertheless true: To be successful, you need to have the right tool for the job. But what happens when your work is specialized, and the tool you need doesn't exist?

If you're Mike Cannon, owner of Cannon Construction Inc., in Milton WA, you develop that tool yourself.

Founded in 1985, Cannon Construction has grown from an owner-operator primarily installing cable television systems locally to now providing copper, data and fiber cabling systems and infrastructure upgrades to government entities, corporations and businesses around the globe. A lot of Cannon's projects are on military bases. By 2007, the company had grown to 130 employees, 20 backhoes and more than 100 pieces of support equipment, with revenues exceeding $26 million, according to the Cannon Construction website.

Several years ago Mike Cannon decided he needed a vehicle for his job sites that would be smaller, more nimble and less expensive to buy and operate than the pickup and 1-ton trucks his company had been using up to then. He bought a golf cart and fitted it out with gear for pulling cable and getting into manholes, he said.

"We did a job for General Dynamics, and their project manager saw it," Cannon recalled. "They put pictures of it on their website, and pretty soon they were getting calls from all over asking about it."

Since then, Cannon's fleet of the light utility vehicles has grown to eight. With the purchase of each new one, Cannon tweaks the design to improve its usefulness based on past experience. After trying several brands of vehicle, the company has settled on Polaris machines purchased from Lynnwood (WA) Motoplex and modified by Allied Body Works Inc. of Seattle.

The compact size of the vehicles is an advantage on tight job sites, and it also makes them easier to ship to far-off military bases because they can fit easily inside a cargo container. Cannon has used them for projects on Guam and Kwajalein islands in the Pacific, where it's difficult to send full-sized construction equipment.

"Every base we go on, they say, 'Where'd you get that? Do you want to sell it?'" Cannon said.

The vehicles' light weight and high traction also came in handy duringa winter project at Suncadia in Washington's Cascade Mountains. When the crew had to work in manholes that were buried under 2 feet of snow, they got to them in their machine using four-wheel drive.

Cannon's newest addition to the fleet is a Polaris 700 series Ranger Crew. The new model appealed to the contractor because its crew configuration offered more space, Cannon said. The stock machine features a 683-CC, 40-horsepower, fuel-injected engine; automatic transmission with four-wheel drive; four-wheel disc brakes; MacPherson strut front suspension/IRS; a 108-inch wheelbase; and a full skid plate. The Ranger Crew has a dry weight of 1,460 pounds; a 224-inch turning radius; a 1,750-pound payload; 2,000-pound hitch towing capacity; and a top speed of 44 mph.

"Polaris is the brand we've stuck with," Cannon said. "It seems to suit us best."

The modifications made by Allied Body include replacing the back seat with two tool boxes; boxing in the battery for protection on the job site;adding electrical switches for work lights and strobes; building a custom bed for the back and a removable top rack; placing removable tool baskets front and back; plus fitting multiple attachment points for cable reels around the vehicle.

The tool baskets are especially handy, Cannon said, because the crew can drop them on the job site and then use the Ranger for other tasks before retrieving the tools at the end ofthe day.

"You guys pretty much invented the wheel on this," said Karl Ozolin, Allied Body's major accounts manager, during a meeting with Mike Cannon. "Each one is a prototype. They are always changing and tweaking them."

It will be interesting to see what new ideas Cannon's team comes up with to make their next Polaris an even better tool forthe job.