The formation of the group

by Paul Hopkinson - Email :

146 Cleethorpes

146 (NKY 146R) is seen in Cleethorpes for the Festival of Transport, June 1994

It all started in an appropriate place, downstairs at the back of 146 (NKY 146R) on service 83 from Chesterfield to Hillstown, one Tuesday afternoon in March 1996. Simon Bennell and myself had spent the day riding on and photographing the remaining Chesterfield and ex. Grimsby-Cleethorpes Fleetlines when another passenger approached us and suggested that we could buy one of these vehicles if we wanted. This passenger was Steve Rush, who had met some fellow enthusiasts previously and made the same suggestion. He had heard that we were of the same persuasion, had spotted us travelling to Hillstown on 146 and put two and two together when we were still on the bus at Bolsover returning to Chesterfield. Steve got off at the Royal Hospital to catch 150 (UWA 150S) back to Hillstown, we stayed on 146 determined to explore the possibility and see what happened.

The next development took place at the May 1996 meeting of the Chesterfield Bus Society, Transpire. We were on an evening tour to the depot of Yorkshire Terrier in Sheffield and at the refreshment stop all interested parties discussed the possibilities of buying a Fleetline and sorted out some outline finances. We decided to meet up again, and on 20th June we did so, at the Brampton Ale House. It was decided at this time to go for 123 (NNU 123M) for two reasons, firstly because of its historical importance, secondly because it was in better condition bodily than the rest. A letter to Mr. Gary Nolan was written on the spot containing a written bid for £2,000.

One month later we had the money together and our financing system in place. On my birthday, 21st September, we received a letter from Mr. P. Sumner saying our bid had been accepted and could we pay for the vehicle and arrange its preparation and collection.

123 had last run on 29th July 1996 on service 81 from Hillstown to Chesterfield at 17:58 hours. Its last few months in service had been dogged by an overheating problem, so some engine work was required. Stagecoach undertook to do this work, re-paint the bus into the livery of our choice, re-panel it where necessary  and replace damaged ancillaries such as headlights, pay as you enter signs, fog lamps and so on. By late November the bus was almost ready, albeit in the wrong shade of green. The reason for this was that it was wrongly assumed that Forest Green from the same manufacturer that supplied Borough of Chesterfield Transport Dept. with Forest Green would be the same Forest Green. Stagecoach agreed to paint it in the correct shade, but this did not happen, instead we were given a good set of tyres. A working party went to New Street in January 1997, where 123 had been stored over the Christmas Period, in order to exchange furniture and other damaged items with the other withdrawn Fleetlines.

Two weeks later on Wednesday 22nd January 1997, 123 left Stonegravels (on trade plates) for the last time and was driven to Staveley to spend the next few months being prepared for its new life in preservation.

J Pass, Staveley

123 at J Pass & Sons, Staveley in 1997

Having just collected 123 from Stonegravels we knew that we would have a relatively large task ahead of us to get her into a fit state to be run longer distances from home than she was used to. Ok, she had not been used since her last MOT but there were quite a few problems which caused concern. Considerably more were to manifest themselves before 123 finally hit the road. Back to January, we knew 123 had a dead battery, but we had acquired another battery from another ex. CTD Fleetline. Unfortunately 123 was unique in that she had smaller batteries than the others (although we now know that 123 - 129 as a batch had smaller batteries). This meant either buying a new battery or modifying 123 to take a larger one. As the acquired battery was almost new we opted for the latter option and fabricated a new battery box. Secondly, whilst we were at New Street in early January she blew a regulator valve on the doors air system. We found this part to be obsolete and part unobtainable. After a few weeks searching we located a lorry component and after much cursing, adjustment and sealing up redundant holes we had working doors again and an auxiliary tank which held its air.

The trip from Stonegravels to Staveley turned up more horrors. Before we had got her through the depot doors we were not happy with the transmission which was slipping badly. We decided to press on. By the time we reached Brimington the oil light was on at half engine revs, and the transmission was worse. On arrival at Staveley liberal coatings of fluid flywheel oil were found all over the engine, bonnet and the back of the bus. We considered this to be good news as a flywheel would be easier and cheaper to replace than a gearbox. We had completed our first trip in a bus belonging to us and it felt good and gave us much inspiration.

Over the next two months much work was done to the interior, cleaning and re-silvering, and more cleaning. Attention was paid to the vandalism on the outside (the scratched paintwork) and the new wheels and tyres kindly donated by Stagecoach were painted. The first of many trips to PVS at Barnsley sourced a good flywheel which was fitted at Easter. At this time we had another fish to fry. Maun International of Mansfield telephoned us to say that sister vehicle 124 had just been withdrawn and Ripleys breakers at Barnsley had put a bid in for it. After many years of trouble free service at Maun's they did not want to see it scrapped, so they offered it to us for the same price as Geoff Ripley had offered. Here was a good engine / gearbox / body spares ready made, so if the worse came to the worst and 123's engine was no good, this alone would justify the cost of 124 and so we bought it. Of course we didn't want to break 124, but its value to us as "insurance" for 123 was too good to miss.

The success of Chesterfield F.C. against Wrexham on 9th March had fixed up a dream fixture against Middlesborough in the F.A. cup semi-final and gave us a date to aim for. It would be fitting for 123 to make its debut taking a party to Old Trafford where the match was to be played. A phone call to Botham's Tachograph Centre confirmed we could have a tacho fitted in time and made it look feasible. Some group members took a week off work to prepare the bus. All the work was done, including fitting the flywheel and other smaller faults. like the windscreen wipers which had expired on collection. During this week all the work required on 124 was done to enable its prohibition to be lifted. Maun Travel gave us use of their workshop to cure an oil leak, secure some windows, secure some panels and to convert and fit a new exhaust system from an AEC 760.

Saturday 12th April (the day before the match) saw 123 taxed and insured and could we fetch it from the tachograph centre? A party of group members were present on 123's inaugural run from the tachograph centre back to Pass's yard. Upon this short run disaster struck once more. A fuel line fractured filling the sump and half of the engine with diesel. At six o'clock on a Saturday evening before the match all was still not lost. The fuel line was repaired, bribery acquired us some oil. By half past eight we were back on the road. But it was still to no avail. A test run to Chesterfield saw the oil light problem get worse still and at 22:30 we called off the Manchester trip. Fortunately all prospective passengers had been told to make other arrangements.

As we all know, Wembley looked possible at one point but the replay at Hillsborough was to be the new target on 22nd April. After draining the oil gallery which the switch for the oil pressure was fed by the oil light situation was improved with it only coming on at low revs. Now 123 was run on 20th April and a high speed run down the Dronfield bypass confirmed she would be fit enough for a trip to Hillsborough.

And so it came to pass that 123's public debut was taking a busload (more than 60 people) to watch Chesterfield F.C. in the F.A. cup semi-final. Whilst things could really only be downhill from here for Chesterfield F.C. (unless they had won!) It marked a turning point in the fortunes of the 123 Group. We were finally on the road with a (reasonably) healthy bus.

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