Leo Carrillo stood in the snow on the interstate amid subfreezing temperatures Thursday, his fingers icy despite heavy mitts.
He was telling drivers what they didn't want to hear: Get off the road and put chains on your tires.
Carrillo's job is chain control.
"I love it," he said.
It's not that he likes delivering bad news. Carrillo, a Marysville resident, said he likes standing in a beautiful place, talking to people.
But when road conditions are bad, as they have been in the Sierra Nevada, his three-man crew parks a camper in the middle of Interstate 80 to screen every vehicle that rolls by.
"Four-wheel drive?" he asked into a car that slowed for chain control. "OK. You guys be safe."
If a vehicle has four-wheel or all-wheel drive it can pass, though drivers are supposed to carry chains.
What many drivers don't carry is common sense.
"See that? That there is a liar," Carrillo said after a van driver tried to tell him the vehicle had four-wheel drive.
This is his third winter on chain control, so Carrillo can spot them.
He sent the van off the road for chains. He noted that the vehicle had Illinois license plates. Out-of-staters don't seem to like our mountain road controls, Carrillo said.
Carrillo's boss had an explanation for all those drivers who think they know how to drive in snow.
"Our snow is a lot denser than snow in the Midwest on to the East," said Bryan Carlson, California Department of Transportation maintenance area superintendent. "Our snow is a lot more moist."
That means it more quickly turns to slush and packs into an icy surface.
His job is keeping I-80 open. He said a closed freeway that keeps people away from Tahoe and Reno can cost millions of tourism dollars.
"My girlfriend lives in Reno. I've done this trip probably 100 times," muttered Brandon Moore of Sacramento, putting chains on his pickup, after he was waved off the road.
While many drivers stop at lower elevations to chain up -- or have chain installers do it for $30 — Moore was hoping he'd be able to get through.
"Usually you can," he said, working the balky chains while dogs Olli and Ted waited in the pickup's cab.
Quick trips aren't exempt
Jennifer Howard of San Rafael was sent off the freeway, too, though she was driving a Toyota RAV4. Only this model didn't have four-wheel drive.
She had to chain up, even though she was only driving to the next freeway exit.
"I come up here all the time. I'm like, 'Come on,' " she said. "They won't let us."
When Carrillo and a co-worker wave people off the Kingvale exit, a colleague waits at the corresponding entrance.
Some people will pretend to put on chains, but then try to get back onto the road.
Caltrans calls them "chain runners" and reports them immediately to the California Highway Patrol.
Officers sometimes catch up with runners when they spin out and wind up in a snowbank. The citation is equivalent to running a stop sign, Carlson said.