Harold is thin and looks more like an 11-year-old than the 16-year-old he is. He's quiet and shy, almost unable to look a stranger in the eye. He says he misses Silver Spring, but doesn't think the Long Stretch Youth Home, where he lives now, is so bad.

It's not until he's asked about the animals that share his sprawling mountaintop refuge that Harold's eyes light up and a smile spreads from the corners of his mouth.

"Oh yeah, the animals are what I like about it here; the horses and cows are great," he says.

Harold (not his real name) was born to an alcoholic mother who left him, at age 2, with an abusive father. He is one of 58 troubled teenagers who live at Long Stretch, a complex of houses and barns on 1,300 acres perched atop cold, barren mountains 12 miles north of Cumberland.

Many of the boys, ages 13 to 18, have been sent to the Garret County outpost as a last resort. Approximately 15 of them are from Prince George's Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

Some were neglected or abused by their parents; others broke the law or could not get along in a foster home. Some have had all three problems.

"We don't accept any boy unless he has flunked out of school. That's one of our requirements," said William Platter, who founded Long Stretch in 1972 with a license from the state department of Social Services, and is its chief administrator.

Platter, himself raised in a foster home since age 4, when his parents abandoned him during the Depression, has built Long Stretch into a home state social-services authorities praise as having been successful with "the most difficult cases."

Harold, who arrived at Long Stretch eight months ago, is a typical resident of the atypical home. Beaten by his father most of his life, he suffered profound hearing loss. As a result, he has been a slow learner.

When the nurse at Long Stretch examined Harold on his arrival, she discovered he had been malnourished all of his life.

"The pediatrician . . . said that since there's no cure for the damage done by long-term malnutrition, all we can do now is feed him well-balanced meals and hope that he develops properly from now on," said Platter.

Platter said that "just this morning" Harold "looked real sad. I was afraid he was thinking of running away so I went outside and asked him if he was. He said no, so then I asked him if he wanted to talk and he said no, that he was just thinking.

"Then he said, 'I'm afraid my father's going to have to go to jail for beating my little sister and me.' I didn't know that his father was being prosecuted, so we talked about it for a while and I think he felt better later on. He's been pretty depressed about it, though."

Then there is Rocky (not his real name), who arrived at Long Stretch in December from Prince George's County. He is 16 and has lived in 21 foster homes since he was 4 months old. He has rarely seen his mother, and she says she does not want to be involved with him. She has been treated for alcoholism several times.

"I was in a foster home, but they weren't licensed by Social Services and I had to come here. I'd rather be there because there were people who cared about me and I cared about them. I'm trying to get emancipated and declared an adult and they (foster parents) said they'd let me come back and live with them if I do," he said.

Last week, Long Stretch suffered a setback that left many of the boys on the move again. Fire destroyed the main building, sending 44 of the 58 teen-aged residents back to their parents or to temporary foster homes. The other 14 had nowhere to go.

The fire destroyed a 3,000-volume library, the food service vocational facility, cafeteria, administrative offices, all official records and the home's only classroom. Platter said there was $115,000 worth of insurance, but it may cost $250,000 to restore the facilities.

County fire investigator Jim Martin said arson is suspected and an investigation is under way.

After the fire, Harold went to stay with his older sister in Silver Spring, and Rocky, who had nowhere to go, stayed at Long Stretch.

Platter expects to have mopping-up operations completed in time for the boys to return next week. Sounding like a shepherd worrying over his flock, he said, "We're awfully anxious to get them all back."

In the nine years since Long Stretch opened, the staff has grown to 43 full-time and part-time employes. They develop important one-on-one relationships with the boys. The home keeps six horses and 40 head of cattle. r

Each boy must choose one of five vocational education programs: agriculture, dairy science, automotive mechanics, home maintenance or food service.

But it is a sixth, currently defunct course in horsemanship that Platter is most enthusiastic about and hopes to bring back to life soon.

"In 1974 my sons went to Oregon and got 20 wild horses through a federal program. We had to pay for transportation and vet bills, which cost about $250 per horse. If the boys can save up the $250, we let them adopt a horse," explained Platter.

Since the program's instructor left last year to attend college, Platter has been unable to find a replacement.

"The main problem is finding someone who can handle the wild horses and wild boys both.

"Some of the boys finally meet their match when they try to tame the wild horses. It's usually the first time they've met something wilder than they are," Platter says with a laugh.

The street-wise youths also learn to milk cows, and some have attended the births of calves during their stay at Long Stretch.

"Our main goal is to make the boys employable and break the welfare chain. Some of these boys come from five generations of welfare," Platter said.

"I think the biggest problem for these boys is the lack of family support -- where parents have kids and 10 years later say, 'well, you were a mistake.'

"A lot of these kids are threatened by what goes on around them; their school and home is not positive. When they come here the environment itself gives them peace and quiet, and it's not that threatening. I think that's why it helps so many boys that couldn't be helped elsewhere."

About half the boys receive personal counseling five days a week. Husband-and-wife teams live in each of four residences, and the fifth house is staffed by four child-care workers. There are also nine fulltime teachers, a psychologist and full-time nurse. A doctor visits weekly.

Platter runs Long Stretch on an annual budget of approximately $735,000, but the home ran a $80,000 deficit in 1980.

Salaries range from Platter's $21,000 (the highest) to $8,000 or $12,000 for instructors, depending on educational background, and $8,000 for child-care workers.

State Social Services administrator Marion Monk, who is responsible for reviewing the Long Stretch license, explained why she is impressed with the facility:

"It has been successful and viable because it has worked with the most difficult kids -- kids that might have been sent to more expensive institutions outside of the state. They have been very good at working with the most aggressive adolescent boys."

Ronald Blake, assistant director of the Department of Juvenile Services, which also sends boys to Long Stretch, expressed similar views:

"About one fourth of the boys at Long Stretch are juvenile delinquents in need of supervision. They do an excellent job of handling those types of boys," he said.

Long Stretch staffers speak proudly of some of the home's "alumni." One young man who left to join the Army in 1974, after a two-year stay, has sought Platter's help in founding a boys' home on his farm in Tennessee. Two graduates of the Long Stretch horsemanship program have continued their studies in riding schools.