The Windy City Air Lease exhibit recreates the air
compressing plant of an “air lease” oil field once located at the
of Windy City, near
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
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.
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
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
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.
became an “air lease” as a result of this change.