The name of Gov. William Donald Schaefer has graced everything from park benches to the state's official silverware since he took office, but never before had the WDS moniker turned up in rubber.

Not, at least, until the governor's last trip to Western Maryland.

Schaefer celebrated the completion of Kelly-Springfield's new headquarters -- which the state built as part of a special loan program to keep the company from leaving the state -- and company officials thanked him with a special tire. "Top of the line," according to Schaefer's press secretary Bob Douglas.

"William Donald Schaefer" is inscribed at the top of the whitewall, "Governor" at the bottom. But you won't see the wheels on the governor's dark blue Lincoln. Only two tires were manufactured, one for the governor and one for the company.

Steve Merson, a deputy clerk in the Howard County Circuit Court, can be ready in a flash for a fire emergency.

Shortly after a fire alarm sounded Monday morning at the Circuit Court building, Merson grabbed his red plastic fire marshal's hat and stepped to the front of the crowd to become the unofficial fire chief.

While Merson watched the building's main entrance, county firefighters from the Ellicott City fire station investigated the alarm. About 15 minutes later, the crowd of about 50 people, which included defendants, lawyers, witnesses, court personnel and prospective jurors, was allowed back into the courthouse. Fire officials said it was a false alarm.

Merson said he keeps the snug-fitting "Junior Fire Marshal" hat in his bottom desk drawer just for unexpected fire drills. The hat was a gag gift from a friend about a year ago, he said.

Although Merson has no firefighting experience, he said several members of his family serve as volunteer county firefighters. Said Merson: "Fire is in my blood." Grapevine items were compiled by staff writers Jo-Ann Armao, Robert Barnes, Retha Hill, Veronica T. Jennings, Chris Spolar and The Associated Press.

Conventional wisdom in Montgomery County is that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Du- kakis seems to be the current presidential favorite of most county Democrats. How come, then, that at the recent Jewish National Fund dinner honoring County Executive Sidney Kramer there was silence, even groans, when a congratulatory telegram from Dukakis was read? Out of place or out of favor?

Meanwhile, in Prince George's County, while the bulk of black elected officials have lined up squarely behind Jesse L. Jackson's candidacy, other key politicos in the county are still feeling their way about the Democratic field. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) showed up (late) for a Jackson rally last month to introduce keynote speaker Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), but the folks over at Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's quarters seem to think Hoyer is their lead man in the county. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has indicated support for Sen. Albert Gore, and, as for County Executive Parris Glendening, he said he was not excited about any of the presidential hopefuls and is staying neutral for now.

Ever since technicians at Fort Detrick shut off a series of transmitting devices last month, automatic garage door openers in northern Frederick County have mysteriously worked again after nearly a month of being jammed by a phantom signal. "As part of the checking process, they went up on the roof of the building and turned off some transmitters," said Norm Covert, a spokesman at the base. Covert said the government is checking, but has not been able to find any relationship between the garage door openers and the transmitters, which used different radio frequencies. He noted that among the people suffering with the problem is post commander Col. Richard Hauer.

Several residents pointed the blame at Fort Detrick, which transmits military and diplomatic messages across the world and is responsible for the president's hot line. The Army's East Coast telecommunications center is at the base, but Covert said the transmitters that were shut off apparently were being operated by the Army on behalf of another, unknown government agency.

Often, former Gov. Harry Hughes says, people will look at him, look away, look back again, and mouth the words: "Are you . . . ?"

Hughes now moves about Baltimore as a private lawyer after 31 years in public life, working as an attorney in the new Baltimore office he has opened for a Washington law and lobbying firm. Friends say Hughes, who will be 61 this month, is making a remarkably smooth reentry to private life.

"I think it's got to be tough for anyone to make that transition, and he had a particularly rough time last year," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md), a longtime colleague and friend of Hughes, referring to Hughes' defeat in his U.S. Senate bid in the wake of the savings and loan crisis some blamed on him. "But Harry doesn't wear his ego on his sleeve like a lot of politicians. He's very self-confident. I think he's survived this better than most would have."

One of the only things that strikes a sour note to Hughes' friends, is the attitude of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has been consistently critical of Hughes' performance as governor since he took over the office a year and a half ago. William S. James, the former state treasurer whom Schaefer worked to replace, believes it has been particularly small of Schaefer not to include Hughes in opening ceremonies for projects, such as the second leg of the Baltimore subway and the bypass around Denton, Hughes' home town, that were developed and mostly completed during the Hughes administration. "It's his problem, not mine," Hughes said of Schaefer's apparent ill will toward him. "I don't understand it, but I'm certainly not going to worry about it." AFTER WORDS "I'll know when she makes up her mind and tells you and I read it in the paper."

-- James Crenca, husband of Montgomery County Council President Rose Crenca, to a reporter who asked if his wife was going to run for Congress.