Windy City Air Lease - Page 1


“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 admission valve.

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 Moyer 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 Northern Oil Company in 1919.  Ronald Moyer's father, Clifton Moyer, and his uncle Lee Moyer 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 task.  Adding to the risk, operating controls for an engine, such as the air throttle and the reversing lever, were often installed on the "near" side of the engine, adjacent to the flywheel. This configuration placed the controls and the operator in close proximity to the plane of the flywheel, creating a "line of fire" hazard.

The first tragedy occurred February 2, 1926, when Ronald's uncle, Merle Monroe Moyer, was killed while servicing a well in the field.  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.  According to an article in The Kane Republican for February 3, 1926, and their retrospective article on February 2, 1956, Merle received critical injuries, including a skull fracture.  At age 29, he died at his home in Russell City, Pensylvania, shortly after the accident.

A second tragedy occurred December 26, 1940, when Lee Moyer, working with his brother Clifton, 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 Lee in the abdomen, severely injuring him.  The Kane Republican for December 27, 1940, reports that Clifton moved Lee from the well site to Lee's home nearby. He was then transported by ambulance to Kane Summit Hospital, where he passed away the next morning at age 37.

At that time, Kendall Refining Company, now in charge of the lease, abandoned using the air-powered steam engines and their attached winches to service the wells.  Instead, they purchased a "steering wheel" model Cletrac crawler with a pulling winch attached.  The pulling winch had a substantial brake band so that the heavy loads could be safely lowered back into the wells.

Windy City July 1968

This photo shows the Windy City site in July 1968.  The building housed the two Blaisdell compressor engines.

Building Front

This photo shows the front of the building in the 1980s.  The wide doors beneath the porch roof provided access to the machinery inside.

Building Rear

This view of the rear of the building, also in the 1980s, shows the air piping leaving the building.  The “shell side” of one of the original steam boilers, to the left in the photo, was used as an air receiver.  Note the T-handle valve in the center of the photo.  It operated a bypass that could dump compressed air to the area of the engine exhaust pit, which is ahead of and to the right of the valve.

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