"Chain monkeys" finally get some business | TahoeDailyTribune.com

"Chain monkeys" finally get some business

Slick streets bring out the worst in driving conditions. But Tuesday’s blizzard was a blessing for the chain installers who make their living on the slushy shoulders of U.S. Highway 50.

A long-awaited snowstorm forced chain requirements and sent about a dozen chain installers to work at the bottom of Echo Summit in Meyers.

“This is a godsend,” Michael Lang said as a motorist whizzed by, pitching a wake of slush onto his yellow rubber suit.

Sunny skies and a skinny snowpack have limited this year’s income for chain installers, who work as independent contractors for the California Department of Transportation.

Lang said Tuesday was just his second day on the job this season.

“I’m way down from last year – about 90 percent,” he said. “This has been the least amount of snow I’ve seen since I started doing this in 1986.”

Lang, whose only job during the winter is “chaining,” has been able to scrape by on savings that he stashed over the summer when he worked as a youth counselor.

Others, seeking more financial security, call chaining a supplement to their regular income.

“You can’t depend on this as your only source of income,” 22-year veteran installer Gary Cook said. “I have another job. I’m a painter, but I come out when it’s snowing to make a little extra money.”

Lang said even in the wet winters, chaining doesn’t provide the income that it used to.

“We don’t have anymore of those thousand-dollar days,” he said. “It’s a good day around here if you make a couple of hundred dollars.”

Increasing popularity of sport utility vehicles and an infusion of snow-rated tires decreased the demand for chain installers. “But we still get a lot of tourists, people in rental cars,” Cook said.

According to chain installers – also called “chain monkeys” – paying $20 for the experience of the experts is a wise investment.

“When we put them on, they don’t come off,” Cook said. “A loose chain can cause a lot of damage.”

Still, some motorists attempt the task themselves.

One man, who groveled around the tires of his car Tuesday, let out a frustrated grumble when the clasp on the chains resisted closure.

The one-word cuss captured Lang’s attention.

“Wait until I go over there and tell him he has the whole thing on backward,” Lang said, shaking his head.

Chain Control Restrictions

– R1: Chains required, snow tread tires allowed

– R2: Chains required on all vehicles except four-wheel-drive with snow tires

– R3: Chains required on all vehicles

– Call Caltrans at (800) 427-7623 for current road information, in Nevada, (775) 688-2500

Source: California Highway Patrol

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