Windy City Air Lease - Introduction

 

The Windy City Air Lease exhibit recreates the air compressing plant of an “air lease” oil field once located at the village of Windy City, near Kane, Pennsylvania.  The Windy City exhibit fulfills several purposes.  First, it demonstrates air lease technology where compressed air was used to operate steam engines to pump oil wells.  In addition, it preserves, in running condition, several examples of compressor engines that produced the compressed air required for operating air leases.  Finally, this exhibit is a tribute to Harold “Jim” McCauley who worked at the Windy City lease for 43 years, operating the air compressing plant, pumping wells, and caring for the equipment so that future generations can now experience it in operation.

The Windy City area was first drilled for oil in the early 1880s.  At that time, well drillers used steam power.  Each well had a standard rig derrick and an engine house for the steam engine that drilled the well.  Many of the wells extended to a depth of 2300 feet in order to reach productive formations.

Following the initial drilling, the oil fields were equipped with central boilers for the steam engines that pumped the wells.  A boiler typically supplied steam to four or five wells via two inch lines.  To help reduce condensation of the steam supply in cold weather, many of the steam pipes ran in wooden boxes filled with sawdust as insulation.  In some installations, the oil discharge lines from the pumps also ran in the same boxes with the steam lines keeping the oil lines warm in the winter.  Stories from the oil fields indicate that the local copperhead snakes occasionally set up housekeeping in the warm, cozy boxes during the spring and fall.

Production of oil at Windy City declined over the next 30 years.  The boilers and piping began to deteriorate.  It became less economically viable to maintain the equipment and pump the wells at the lower rate of production.  In 1919, the lease received a major upgrade when the steam boilers were replaced with internal combustion compressor engines.  The steam engines at the oil pumps were then operated with compressed air instead of steam.  Windy City became an “air lease” as a result of this change.

Windy City Building
The Windy City Air Lease exhibit at the museum.
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