The average life of a car pool in the Washington area is two and a half years, according to a spokesman at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. But in the small western Loudoun County village of Waterford, they've got one that's been going 52 years.

The car pool makes a 90-mile round trip each work day between the District and Waterford, leaving at 6:30 a.m. and returning about 6:30 p.m. Six of its seven members are government workers.

The group was begun in 1935 by Wellman Chamberlin, the father of three current car pool members, when he went to work for the National Geographic Society. He eventually became the society's chief cartographer.

During the first days of World War II, Chamberlin, hoping to secure a better supply of gas rationing coupons, turned the car pool into a cooperative arrangement. Each of the members paid a sum that contributed to the purchase and maintenance of the car, and fuel costs. If a member dropped out, he turned his seat over to someone else, with no refunds. The arrangement continues today.

"Once you choose to live here {Waterford}, the {commuting} options are limited," said Robert Chamberlin, a financial report analyst for the Federal Reserve Board. "The car pool was sort of a family tradition."

Besides Robert Chamberlin, the car pool includes his brothers John Chamberlin, director of administration for the Environmental Protection Agency, and David Chamberlin, a program analyst at EPA; Betty Cox and Marged Harris, lawyers with EPA, and Abbey Cutter, who works at the National Endowment for the Humanities. The lone nongovernment worker is Jose Gomez, an administrative officer at the Pan American Health Organization.

In the early days of the car pool, the commuters' biggest challenge was not the traffic but the roads, particularly in bad weather. During snowstorms, for instance, the car pool had to use its car as a battering ram to get through the snowdrifts between Waterford and Rte. 7.

These days, the real enemy is traffic, brought on by massive suburban development. The trip has slowed over the last several years from about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half.

The car pool has certain simple rules. No smoking and everyone takes a turn at the wheel. The driver controls the heat, the radio and the tape player. "The other day, Jose brought in 'Graceland,' " Harris said. "It's 6:30 in the morning and we're all going down the road like this {she waves her hands in the air} singing to 'Graceland.' "

Lately the group rides in a Dodge van, a beige one that replaced an old station wagon. The vehicles change occasionally, but the car pool keeps its same "Les Schoene memorial lap robe," a tattered blanket used by the late Lester Schoene, a labor union lawyer well known in Washington and one of the original car pool members.

Riders say a number of things have kept this car pool on the road for more than half a century. The trip from Waterford is long -- you leave in the dark and, during the winter months, return in the dark -- but the car pool makes the trip bearable and sometimes fun. Although the commuters occasionally sleep or read the newspaper, there are lively conversations ranging from the practical to the arcane.

There is, for instance, "Robert's Report," by which Robert Chamberlin keeps the other six abreast of recent books and movies. In another vein, Harris said, the group's newest member, "there's this ongoing argument about whose rain gauge is right. I figure that only if your father is a cartographer do you sit and argue about your rain gauges."

And there is the Chamberlin family's bond with the village of Waterford. Like their parents (their father died but their mother still lives in Waterford), the Chamberlin brothers' regard for the village brought them all back here to live and raise their families.

And of course there are the adventures. If there is a big storm on the way home, the car pool heads for the nearest Chinese restaurant, where the group waits out rush hour. "It's more civilized," said David Chamberlin. "The theory is that those who are going to get stuck are stuck {by the time dinner's over} and those who aren't going to get stuck are gone, so we can then weave in and out of the cars."

There have been memorable trips home. Cox recalled one that took more than four hours. "Cars were strewn on both sides of the road the whole way. We thought, we're still on the road and they're not. I wonder how long we'll last."

The Chamberlins and those who knew their father remember the pride Wellman Chamberlin took in his early commuting. "He'd get into work and no one else would be there, and he would have come the farthest," said David Chamberlin.

Even now, he said, "that frequently still happens. We'll get into work and people will say, 'What are you doing here?' "

Over the years, the car pool has developed a code language and has even spawned plans for a book on commuting.

The code includes such expressions as "Number One," which when spoken during the trip means "Who chose this route?" And "Number Two" which means "We're behind you all the way."

The book is being written by two former car pool members, Douglass Lea and Bowman Cutter. It concerns what they call "commuter theory."

Cutter, who was deputy director of the budget under Jimmy Carter, said the book includes "a series of brilliant insights, such as, you don't commute to work, you work to commute. If you think about it, it changes your whole life." This necessitates what Lea, a writer, calls "an attitude adjustment."

The book also suggests setting a VCR camera on the hood of the car and taping the trip, so commuters can go home and share the commute with their families. "It spins on endlessly," Cutter said.

"We're talking transformation on a global plane," Lea said.

They have yet to look for a publisher. "It's going to be a question of a selection between competing publishing houses," Cutter said. "We're very excited about it."

It is anyone's guess how long the Waterford Car Pool will run. All three Chamberlin brothers are eligible for retirement in 15 years. Among them they have seven children.

John Chamberlin Jr., a 17-year-old student at St. Andrew's School of Delaware in Middletown, rode the car pool last summer to a job with the Veterans Administration. He said neither he nor his cousin, Robert, who made the commute two summers and now attends the University of Virginia, care for the commuting life. "After a while you get used to it, because you fall asleep or read the newspaper," John said.

But year in and year out, he said, "there is no way. Maybe I'll become a forest ranger."