Peter Lynch remembers exactly where and when he made the suggestion that would lead Jimmy Carter to this picturesque mill town 45 miles west of Boston on Wednesday night.

It was in a bar in the Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston. It was the night of Feb. 14 and Lynch, an aide to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, was hunched over [WORD ILLEGIBLE] studying a map of the State with Ellis [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the White House advance office.[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] that night on a[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] boss, the President.[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] on his first planned, official trip since[WORD ILLEGIBLE] Carter would participate in a town meeting in Massachusetts, where the colonial tradition of direct citizen participation in government through town meetings still survives.

Woodward arrived in Massachusetts in mid-February armed with a list of possible sites for the presidential town meeting -- it did not include Clinton --and a set of criteria the White House wanted met.

"They wanted a place with a good demographic mix." Lynch recalled. "They wanted a place a little off the beaten track. They wanted a place with a real town hall and a town meeting form of government."

It was then that Lynch remembered Clinton, where he had been once before, with Dukakis, to witness the swearing-in of the local clerk of courts.

"Clinton just popped out from the map," he said.

The Parker House meeting between Lynch and Woodward was one of hundreds of steps leading to Carter's first presidential foray out among the people. Moving a President around the country is an enormously complex business, filled with security, logistical, political and media considerations, some of which are at odds with each other.

Carter's relatively brief and simple trip to Massachusetts, West Virginia and New York this week is no exception.

Carter will leave Andrews Air Force Base Wednesday afternoon for Clinton on the first leg of the journey. He will be in Clinton for less than 18 hours, and spend only 90 minutes at the "event" the Clinton stop revolves around, a meeting modeled after the town's annual meeting in the Town Hall. Yet dozens of people have been involved in planning and preparing for Carter's arrival, at a cost to the federal, state and local governments that could be accurately estimated only long after he is gone.

Almost every facet of White House operation, from the National Security Council aide who provided information for the President's speech to the United Nations this Thursday night to the technicians who installed special communications equipment at the three sites he will visit, played some role in preparing for the trip.

The President's schedule was affected by his own desire, in the words, of presidential assistant Tim Smith, to make this "a working trip," unlike the superficiality of campaigning. It was also affected by purely political consideration, like the party affiliations of the governors of the states Carter might visit, and by the ever-present desire to project the presidential message and image as widely as possible through the use of television.

Fran Voorde, the White House scheduling director, began thinking about the trip in January, almost from the time Jimmy Carter took office. She originally thought of a cross-country tour, realized that would take too long, and in early February settled on a three-day trip. The White House senior staff approved that concept, only to have Carter order it condensed to two days.

From that, came the plan for a two-day trip, centering on a New England town meeting -- a format, similar to the President's radio, call in program earlier this month, that Carter enjoys and uses effectively. It would also include stops in Charleston, W.Va., for an energy conference, and New York, where the President was to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade and visit a federal office building.

Throughout all the changes, West Virginia and Massachusetts remained in the schedule, the former being the home of Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and the latter the home of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.

But besides those obvious political connections, the two states have something else in common -- their governors, Dukakis of Massachusetts and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia -- are Democrats, an important factor in a business where the cooperation of state and local officials can be crucial.

With Carter's approval of the two-day trip. Woodward took off on Feb. 14 in search of the ideal Massachusetts town in which to display the President meeting the people. A 25-year-old native of New Hampshire who did advance work for Carter throughout the campaign, Woodward first witnessed Dukakis conduct one of his own town meetings near Boston. Later that night, he and Lynch retired to the Parker House bar to discuss Carter's visit.

The next day, Woodward and Lynch journeyed across the Massachusetts countryside, visiting more than a dozen towns. When they got to Clinton, Woodward knew that Lynch had been right.

"It was ideal," he said. "It was like if you had designed a town for this event, this was it."

Nestled in the hill near the Nashua River, Clinton was founded in 1850. Among its 13,000 citizens there is a demographic mix of Germans, Italians, a small Spanish-speaking community and a smaller number of blacks. But mostly it is Irish, heavily Catholic, a working-class town filled with large families of ordinary Americans, the kind of people Jimmy Carter said he wants to stay close to Last November, Clinton went for Carter by 2 to 1.

The Clinton Town Hall, a brick structure built in 1909, stands across from a park one block from the heart of the town. With wooden chairs stretched across a bare, wooden floor and a graceful balcony above, it was, Woodward judged, large enough to handle the President's first "town meeting."

The gathering here Wednesday night, where Carter will answer questions from the audience for an hour and a half, is in no-sense a real New England town meeting, but rather a carefully planned presidential appearance. Clinton's real town meeting is held annually in May, and for the President to address the citizenry Wednesday night will require a suspension of the town rules.

Having seen Clinton, Woodward returned to Washington and recommended it to White House officials enthusiastically. The town officials, whose offices are in the Town Hall, did not know he had been there.

Woodward returned to Clinton in the first week of March but he did not come alone. He brought with him Col. Len Riley, of the White House Communications Agency; Air Force Maj. Andy Fay, whose job it is to look after Air Force One; Gary Wright of the White House Transportation Office; Ruth Berry of the Press Advance Office, and Bill Heckman, another White House advance man.

They also visited Charleston and New York, beginning the check on the thousands of details involved in a presidential trip.

In New York to check the St. Patrick's Day parade route and the federal building Carter was to visit, Heckman made a routine telephone call back to Tim Smith at the White House and found out one more change was in the offing.

"Be prepared to take on the U.N. and junk something else," Smith told them.

The sudden decision for the President to address the United Nations necessitated more schedule changes. What was junked was the visit to the federal building and the parade.

Carter had been scheduled to fly from Clinton to New York at mid-morning Thursday for the parade. But because the U.N. speech was scheduled for the evening, in prime television time that the White House hoped the television networks would take advantage of, his arrival in New York had to be timed for late afternoon, shortly before the speech.

As a result, the other parts of the trip were reversed -- Carter would go first to Clinton, spend Wednesday night there, then go on to Charleston, spending most of Thursday there before flying to New York.

For a while, the White House toyed with the idea of having the U.N. speech on Wednesday night because ABC was scheduled to telecast a heavyweight fight on Thursday night. But that would have required holding the Clinton town meeting on Tuesday night, when the Public Broadcasting System -- which will broadcast the meeting live -- had a longstanding commitment to telecast a performance of the Metropolitan Opera.

Instead, the time of the speech was set for 7:30 p.m., before the fight on ABC and before the NCAA basketball playoff to be broadcast on NBC.

By last week, Carter's schedule, although it would still go through numerous minor changes, was set. And by last week, Clinton began to feel the weight of an impending presidential visit.

Woodward returned to Clinton for the third time last Wednesday, this time to stay until the President had come and gone.

Working out of the Sheraton Inn in nearby Boxborough, the White House contingent swelled as the weekend neared.From Boston, Lynch, and John Rendon, a former Massachusetts assistant secretary of public safety who is about to join the staff of the Democratic National Committee, arrived in Boxborough to help with the advance work.

Dick Ehlenfeldt, an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Patrick J. Lucey and a former advance man in George McGovern's presidential campaign, came in from Madison to help with arrangements at the Town Hall.

From Washington, in addition to Secret Service agents and transportation, communications and other specialists, Woodward was joined by Anne Edwards of the White House media liaison office, and Mary Hanley and Carrollann Rambo, both of whom worked in Vice President Mondale's campaign. They would handle arrangements for a Washington-based press contingent of more than 90 that would be traveling with Carter and some 450 local area news media employees.

Clinton, meanwhile, appears to be loving every minute of the attention. Alan JewetT, the chairman of the town's three-member Board of Selectmen, took two weeks off his job at a Boston hospital to devote full time to the Carter visit.

But problems remained and would continue to crop up as the time for the President's arrival here.

For the Secret Service, one problem was a bombing on Saturday in a town about 10 miles from Clinton. A radical group claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it was timed in connection with the Carter trip. As a result, security will be tighter than usual here on Wednesday.

The town itself was approached by the inevitable demonstrators that a President attracts. A group protesting high unemployment was granted a parade permit for Wednesday, but was denied permission to string up banners in the park across from the Town Hall.

"I told him," said Selectman Martin McNamara, "that Clinton was a beautiful town before he came and after the President of the United States leaves, I have to stay and it's still going to be beautiful."

Carter will stay overnight two blocks from the Town Hall in the large, white frame house of Edward and Katherine Thompson. Thompson is the chief accountant and office manager for a Boston beer distributing firm who first learned of the possibility that Carter would be staying in his house last Friday.

Sitting around the kitchen table Monday afternoon with Mrs. Thompson and three of her eight children, Woodward gently suggested that the family have buttermilk in for the President, told them that Carter usually has only coffee and orange juice for breakfast and that Thursday's breakfast should be at 8 a.m.

"Very good," Mrs. Thompson said as she took notes.

Back at the Town Hall, meanwhile, workmen swarmed around the meeting place Monday and today, installing telephones, lighting for the television cameras, rearranging the wooden chairs to squeeze in a few more people. Of Clinton's 13,000 residents, 850 will be able to attend the meeting, their names having been drawn in a lottery here Saturday.

By late Monday afternoon, Barry Jagoda, Carter's television adviser, arrived in Clinton to meet with network representatives about television arrangements. They seemed reasonably satisfied and Jagoda headed off for New York to work on the television plans for the U.N. speech.

After the meeting, Woodward was approached by the producer for PBS who had a special request. The network wanted Alan Jewett's introduction of the President extended from one minute to three minutes to give the network time to show a film about Clinton.

"Out in Des Moines, they don't know why you picked Clinton," the producer said.

Woodward finally agreed to delay Carter's appearance on the stage until 7:32 p.m. Wednesday which, with Jewett's one-minute introduction, gave PBS its three minutes.

Woodward was also approached by Jim McNamara, a member of the local council on aging and an unhappy man. McNamara made a final plea to be allowed to present Carter with a citation during the meeting. Turned down, he announced he was going to appear on television and would "express my disappointment in the strongest possible terms."

Later, McNamara asked a visitor, "Who the hell is this bastard Ellis Woodward?"

Through it all, Woodward remained unperturbed and saw no reason for second-guessing his choice of Clinton.

Today, the White House group began its final preparations. Woodward and the others left the motel this morning, driving to Hanscom Field, where Carter will land Wednesday. Standing in a cold drizzle, they checked where Air Force One would stop, where the press would be, how visiting dignitaries and staff aides would get to their cars, which direction the motorcade would take out of the field.

They drove the route Carter will ride, from the air field to the motel, from the motel to the Town Hall, from the Town Hall to the Thompson home. They walked through the Town Hall, along the path Carter will take.

On the way back to the motel, the President due here in little more than 24 hours, Woodward pronounced that Clinton was ready for Jimmy Carter.

"This thing has come together," he said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Clinton, Mass awaits President Carter, who will answer question at a Town Hall meeting Wednesday; Picture 2, Storekeepers hang a welcome ad for a President. by Frank Johnston; Picture 3, White House advance staffers meet with network representatives at Clinton Town Hall to set up TV coverage of the President's town meeting there. by Frank Johnston, The Washington Post; Picture 4, Lanny Vitone hangs a Jimmy Carter $1 bill under a Clinton bank sign.; Picture 5, Advance man Woodward ponders question at staff meeting in Clinton.; Picture 6, Youths spruce up Clinton Town Hall in preparation for President's visit.; Picture 7, Alan Jwett, chairman of Board of Selectmen, sorts out blueprints of Town Hall to help Secret Service.