There was a parade featuring "The Marching Blues", a spirited high school band whose music made up in volume what it otherwise lacked. There were pony rides, a baby contest, barbecue, free swimming and bingo. And sandwiched in the parade between the band and the town's fire engine were Virginia's gubernatorial candidates and all their running mates, come here to honor a long-standing Labor Day tradition.

It was Buena Vista's 11th Annual Labor Day celebration, one of only a handful held in Virginia, where labor isn't frowned upon but where labor unions often are.

There were no union leaders on the podium and no labor organizations appeared among the list of 30 sponsors. That's the way local leaders prefer it in this small, conservative town, nestled in a lush green valley just west of the fog-draped Blue Ridge Mountains, 150 miles from Washington.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charles S. Robb has been coming to Buena Vista ever since 1977 when he ran and won the lieutenant governor's office. He brought along running mates Richard J. Davis and Gerald L. Baliles -- "rhymes with smiles," Baliles told the audience -- along with a wooden Robb for Governor sign large enough to need its own trailer.

Robb's Republican opponent, J. Marshall Coleman, eyed that sign and declared, "Chuck must have bought it with Texas money." But Coleman had his own campaign gimmick -- six high school girls dressed in tight-fitting white shorts and blue T-shirts reading "I'm Partial to Marshall."

Robb rode in the parade in a maroon 1950 Ford convertible. Dressed in a tie, gray slacks and blue blazer, the ex-Marine officer was as informal as he ever gets on the campaign trail. Coleman who brought along his wife, Niki, eschewed his car and walked Jimmy Carter-style.

After Buena Vista, the candidates moved on 40 miles west to Covington for a second parade more in keeping with the spirit of the day. Covington is a union town and the celebration there was sponsored by Local 675 of the United Paperworkers International Union.

Covington is an area Chuck Robb, who is running as conservative a campaign as any Democrat in recent Virginia history, must carry if he is to win in November. But many expect he won't do as well here as did Henry Howell, the liberal Democrat who lost Virginia's last governor's race four years ago while carrying this area. Robb was not endorsed by the state AFL-CIO and his labor union credentials are in doubt.

One sign of that doubt appeared today when Jimmy Wood, organizer for the International Typographers Union, which is locked in a five-month strike against Covington's local daily newspaper, attempted to extract a promise from Robb not to advertise in the paper.

But Robb ducked the issue, saying placement of ads would be determined by local campaign committees out of his control. Wood, who refused to wear a Robb campaign button, just shook his head later, saying, "I guess he thinks he's doing what he thinks he has to do to get elected in Virginia -- catering to the conservatives."