“Air lease” technology had its origins in the area near
Bradford, Pennsylvania. The
equipment chosen for Windy
City included two 65 hp compressor engines
made by the Blaisdell Machinery Company in Bradford.
The photo shows the nameplate on one of the engines. Each engine
produced power and compressed air in a single cylinder using a tandem
piston arrangement. The engines were 16 inch bore by 20 inch
stroke, producing their rated 65 hp at 180 RPM. The engines burned
the natural gas available in the oil field using high tension magneto
ignition. The Blaisdells used the four-cycle design with hit or miss
combustion controlled by a pendulum governor that operated the gas
Air lease technology was
advantageous for intermittent pumping operations such as at Windy City because the compressor
engines could be rapidly started and placed into operation, matching
engine operation to the needs of oil pumping.
Ronald Meyer of Rew,
Pennsylvania, visited the museum for History Day
on July 19, 2014, and related the early history of
the air lease to Paul Harvey.
Gordon James Field was the superintendent who
installed the Windy
City air plant for Kendall Refining in
Ronald Meyer's father, Clifton Meyer, and his uncle Lee Meyer were the
first operators of the new air plant and also pumped the wells.
Initially, the wells were serviced by the air-powered steam engines.
The crew would remove the pitman arm that operated the walking beam and
then use the winch drum attached to both pull and lower the rods and
tubing when servicing the pump at the bottom of the well. As seen from
our Farrar & Trefts engine in the Windy
City exhibit at the museum, there is no brake mechanism. The descent of
a heavy string of tubing had to be controlled by using the reversing link of
the engine to apply air pressure for braking. As the engines wore and
developed less power, braking the load became an increasingly difficult
The first tragedy occurred on Christmas day of 1947 when
Lee was killed. The descent of a string of two inch tubing could not
be controlled by the engine and it oversped. This overspeed
condition caused the balance ring on the flywheel to explode, sending pieces
of the ring flying at high speed. One
piece stuck Lee in the head and he was killed instantly.
A second tragedy occurred when Ronald's uncle Merle, who
joined Clifton after Lee's
death, was also killed by an exploding balance ring. Again, the engine
could not be slowed by air pressure when applying the reverse lever. A
piece of the ring struck Merle in the abdomen and he lingered at home
several days before passing away.
At this time, Kendall abandoned
using the air-powered steam engines and their attached winches to service the wells and
purchased a "steering wheel" model Cletrac crawler with pulling winch
attached. The pulling winch had a big brake band so that the heavy
loads could be lowered back into the wells safely.