It was a chilly 7:30 a.m., and the Green Ladies of Quakertown climbed into the beige Buick Regal they used as their patrol car.

Fran Baker, 69, was driving; Ruth O'Toole, 76, was riding shotgun as the navigator; and Barbara Preston, 65, was in the backseat.

It was the end of the Green Ladies' four-month mission on behalf of the borough and their beloved senior center.

Since April, the Green Ladies, as they came to be known, have patrolled the streets of Quakertown to encourage borough residents to start recycling.

If curbside piles of newspapers, cans, and bottles didn't show up after two Green Lady drive-bys, the families received the equivalent of a gentle tsk-tsk from a favorite aunt - a door hanger with the words "Trash Less and Recycle More."

"The seniors have done an unbelievable job with this project," said Scott McElree, borough manager. "It was an arduous project; it was very labor-intensive and time-consuming. It wasn't easy."

Their effort was part of an initiative to increase recycling not only because "it's the right thing to do," McElree said, but also because more recycling translates into more state funding for the borough coffers.

Earlier this year, Quakertown officials turned to the Upper Bucks Senior Citizens Center in Milford for a crew of volunteers that would help encourage the 705 families who had not been recycling to start.

If the effort was successful and the borough received more state funding, then Quakertown would turn the extra money into an increase in borough funding for the center.

"We are doing this for the center, hopefully for some money toward our building fund," said Baker, of Richland Township.

The center, housed in an old Milford Township Volunteer Fire Company building, is rich with programs but struggles financially.

Formerly in an old Quakertown supermarket, the center was destroyed by a fire in June 2007. It has since relocated to the fire company building.

In Quakertown, the center paid monthly rent of $1 to the borough. In Milford, rent is $2,000. The old Quakertown site is now a parking lot, and there are no immediate plans to rebuild.

Quakertown Borough and Milford Township donate a total of $1,200 a month to the center to help defray the cost of the rent. But the center must raise the rest.

Center manager Rose O'Brien leads fund-raising efforts with parties, bake sales, flea markets, trips, along with proceeds from a gift shop. Under O'Brien's leadership, programs and activities have expanded so much since the fire that membership has jumped from 150 to about 1,100.

"Just because our members are old, it doesn't mean they're dead," said O'Brien, 57. "We'd love to stay here and get money to buy and remodel the building."

Enter the Green Ladies: a retired nurse, supermarket cashier, and bus company customer-service representative.

Baker, who formerly drove a school bus and worked as a nurse at Doylestown Hospital, was behind the wheel. O'Toole was next to her, using navigating skills she developed when she worked for Greyhound. Preston, the youngest, did most of the walking and hanging of the door notices.

The car ride is a laugh-filled four hours that Preston said was occasionally interrupted by O'Toole and Baker's impression of the Odd Couple.

"Sometimes they bicker like an old married couple," said Preston, of Springfield Township, Bucks County. But the disagreements never last beyond a few minutes, and the women's friendship has grown stronger.

On the group's next-to-last patrol, the women repeatedly bumped into the driver of a recycling truck. Eventually, driver Daniel "Doctor Love" Love, 61, stopped to chat.

He said recycling had increased since he began servicing the route three years ago.

The final numbers are not in, but about 104 families did not recycle in one of four borough districts when the women started patrolling. Last week, that number was down to 53.

Love said he thought more families were getting "the green idea."

Baker laughed and said, "I thought you were going to say, it's because of us."

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.