It’s so simple,” says Pat Butler, 29. “I don’t know why somebody didn’t think of it before.” Butler’s invention—a small metal clip that fits onto the inner and outer tire rims to facilitate the attachment and removal of snow chains—is indeed so basic that the U.S. Patent Office turned him down twice and deliberated for three years before granting him a patent last December.
His “Missing Link” (the name it’s marketed under) was born of sheer frustration. An Irish-born ex-carpenter, Butler skis the Sierra slopes at every opportunity. One weekend in 1975 he set out at dawn from his South San Francisco home but didn’t get in a single run before nightfall because he had to stop to put on or take off chains seven times. “I decided there had to be an easier way,” Butler says. “And then it came to me.”
In his garage he welded two U-shaped pieces of steel to the rims of his rear tires. The next ski weekend Butler pulled up at the end of a long line of cars at a California Highway Patrol roadblock, where in heavy snow skiers pay workers called “chain monkeys” up to $50 to attach their chains. “I jumped out of the car,” Butler recalls, “hooked the chains to the clips, drove forward, hopped out and snapped on the loose ends. Then I cut around all the other cars and went skiing.”
After some modifications, the Missing Links, which sell for $4 to $5, now clip onto any tire rim without welding. New York’s Con Edison obviously considers them a bargain, having ordered $20,000 worth. “Our machines are going 24 hours a day,” Butler grins, “and retailers are standing in line. I never expected anything like this.”