Eddie Smallwood, a straight-talking, tobacco-spitting railroader, lost a bitterly contested election Tuesday to Bill Brawley, the bigtime mayor of this tiny town, but Smallwood promises that "we'll go on a-feuding."

Not since John Brown and his band attempted to liberate the munitions from the Army outpost here 120 years ago has this river bluff town of 429 people seen such a dispute as the municipal election spawned.

The preelection days were marked by charges of strong-arm police tactics, nepotism, and the overpowering influence of fdeeral funds that Brawley, with a life-time of experience in national politics, brought with him in his first term as mayor.

The figures in this drama were as diverse and colorful as the issues. They included a collection of Harpers Ferry natives, a tough-talking Brooklyn cop, a distinguished Bostonian, a gun-toting judge, an artist and a helicopter pilot.

As might be expected, the townsfolk found this election hard to pass up. Of those who were eligible to vote, only seven failed to cast a ballot. Above all else, these voters saw the election as a chance to show their feelings about the spit-and-polish police department that Brawley hired with an unusual $90,000 federal grant.

To Brawley, his 112-to-86 victory was a mandate for that department and clear evidence that he should seek even more federally financed projects for his adopted hometown.

Brawley, 52, deputy postmaster general in the Kennedy administration and a political aid to Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) until two years ago, used his influence on Capitol Hill to get the $90,000 for the police department. The appropriation was added to the budget of the National Park Service by Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) after Brawley convinced him that the town needed a professional police force because of its 1.6 million annual visitors.

Brawley promptly hired as chief Billy Gallinaro, an old friend and Capitol Hill coworker of Brawley's son-in-law, Keith Adkinson, who also lives here and serves free as the town attorney. Adkinson was hired by Jackson as associate counsel to the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee.

Gallinaro, a famed Mafia-fighting investigator, quickly gained a reputation here as a zealous policeman who, in the words of Smallwood, "would sooner break down a door than turn the handle."

In midafternoon Tuesday, standing across the road from the concrete block building that serves as town hall, post office and police station, Smallwood pointed to a helicopter passing overhead and shouted: "Don't land here!"

The remark prompted gales of laughter from Smallwood's pals who had attempted to capitalize on a zany incident that involved Gallinaro's police and a helicopter.

On March 25, Gallinaro attempted to arrest the pilot of a helicopter that landed - illegally, he said - in a vacant lot next to the home of artist Audrey Preissler and her husband, Detley. The Preisslers live in the adjoining town of Bolivar (pop. 1,033) where Gallinaro's department also has jurisdiction.

Gallinaro said the Preisslers repeatedly refused police demands to "produce the pilot," who was their house guest. The chief said the Preisslers physically resisted him and two other uniformed officers, whereupon Circuit Court Judge Pierre Dostert, who had voluntarily accompanied police to the house, ordered the arrests of the Preisslers.

The Preisslers' version of the story is that when they told Gallinaro they would not let him in the house without a search warrant, the judge - who had thrown a coat over his pajamas - stuck a pistol in Preissler's chest and announced: "I am the law and this is my warrant."

In a lighter vein is a story that relates to Gallinaro's unsuccessful effort, while working for the Senate committee, to locate missing Teamsters' boss Jimmy Hoffa.

A 55-gallon oil drum, adorned with the words "Jimmy Hoffa, R. I. P.," reportedly was seen bobbing in the headwaters of the Shenandoah River where it meets the Potomac here.

"Very funny," sneered Gallinaro in his Brooklyn accent, reaching for an economy-sized jar of Digel. The former New York City cop and investigator for the New York state crime commission, Justice Department and Senate committee said running the sixman police force here is "the toughest job I ever had."

Ten years ago, perhaps, the chief's accent would have stood out among the West Virginia twangs of natives such as Smallwood. But over the last decade, Harpers Ferry has become a refuge for city folk - within commuter reach by rail or auto of Washington and Baltimore.

The influx of outsiders was reflected in Smallwood's own slate of candidates - retired professor of philosophy from San Francisco, a former Eisenhower subcabinet member and Wall Street Banker, a historian, a nurse and a retired social worker.

Brawley's slate was no less diverse. It included an architect-designer, two school teachers, a retired industrial supervisor, a dentist and the wife of an official of the Civil Service Commission.

The issues and personalities were so intertwined that it wasn't possible to apply easy labels to the rival, nonpartisan slates. It was not sophisticated newcomers versus down-home natives. Even the debate over development was not a case of growth versus no-growth advocates but rather who should control the inevitable development.

Mayor Brawley suggested that Smallwood and his running mates were stalking horses for Dixie Kilham, a lawyer and real estate speculator who owns Hilltop House, an old hotel that the National Park Service has been eyeing for expansion of the historic district.

Smallwood and his supporters responded by pointing out that Brawley was one of the developers of the Bryce Mountain resort in Virginia.

"Sure and I'm proud of it; it's the finest ski resort in the East," the mayor answered. "But I have no plans now or in the future for development here," he said.

Although Brawley was reelected, two Council candidates from Smallwood's slate beat incumbents, including Bradley Nash, 79, who was Herbert Hoover's campaign secretary and undersecretary of Commerce and assistant secretary of the Air Force under Ike, Nash said Brawley's problem has been "too much family."

"It's too tiny a town" to allow the mayor's wife, daughter and son-in-law to take active roles, Nash said. "I'm amazed that Bill Brawley hasn't realized that. He was well brought up," observed Nash in a most proper Boston accent.

Smallwood, a member of the council off and on for 22 years, did not take the campaign all that seriously. As a friend walked toward the polling place, Smallwood yelled, "Vote for the man who can only get on hand in your pocket?" a joking reference to the left arm he lost when a coal car overturned on him 32 years ago.

And no matter who won, gift shop operator Steve Bittinger made a profit selling miniature, silver replicas of a helicopter. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Mayor Bill Brawley, above, and his town chief of police, Billy Gallinaro, right. Photos by Valerie Hodgson for The Washington Post