Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Mother Lode residents looking to make extra cash this winter might want to consider becoming chain installers.

Caltrans is holding an orientation class for applicants next month - the first step to receiving an encroachment permit to install chains on vehicles along highways 4, 88, 89, 108, 120 and 207 in Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador and Alpine counties.

Chain installers are self-employed or employed by private agencies, and stationed along highways to assist motorists with installing, removing and repairing chains and cables.

"The majority of people don't want to get out of their nice warm cars and you don't blame them," said local chain installer Mitch Wilson.

Although they are not employed by the state, workers must receive permits and identification bibs through Caltrans.

Fifteen bibs will be issued for each highway, with one bib per district per highway, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Angela DaPrato.

Highway 4 and Highway 108 are the most popular spots for chain installers, and more are needed on Highway 88, DaPrato said.

Wilson, a Sonora resident, has been installing chains since 1996 as a way to supplement his income when his carpentry work slows down in the winter.

He sets his own schedule, typically working from 7 a.m. until about 5 p.m. to catch peak ski traffic.

He said rates usually run around $30 for installation and $20 for removal, but it varies depending on the vehicle -service for an 18-wheeler will cost more than service for a sedan.

However, chain installers will tend to school buses for free, according to Wilson.

Each chain installer must purchase a new permit every year, which costs $160. Bibs are $40 but only need to be replaced if they are worn out, Wilson said.

Returning chain installers with no violations are not required to attend the orientation and take the written and performance exam each year, according to Caltrans.

They can schedule an appointment to pick up their permits from the Caltrans Maintenance Office at 98 S. Main St., in Angels Camp by calling 736-0187.

New applicants can call the same number to sign up for the class and exam, which will be held at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Caltrans Maintenance Office. Successful applicants can pick up their permits immediately after the test.

Calaveras County requires a business license for all applicants interested in working on Highway 4. It can be obtained through the Calaveras County Tax Collector's Office in the Government Center at 891 Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas.

Wilson said installing chains in the snow can be hard work but he doesn't mind.

"We want to be out there," he said. "If you can't take the cold, you're not going to be out there. You're out there in the elements."

Contact Christina O'Haver at or 588-4526.