For Harry Patrick, one of the last recent white knights of labor union reform, the sleigh ride ended this week.

His five-year term done as secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers, Patrick cleaned out his office, said his farewells and then did what most other 47-year-old coal miners with five kids would do.

With his union on strike and no mine to return to, Harry Patrick applied for unemployment compensation benefits - a far cry from the $35,000-a-year UMW job.

For now, Patrick's future is uncertain. He is being considered for several jobs in the federal government and he is weighing going back to work in an underground mine once the strike ends.

In a way, Patrick's departure from the UMW marked the end of an era. His term began in 1972 after he and fellows reformers rose to power in a movement that attracted worldwide attention and sympathy.

They achieved major changes in the union once run so autocratically by John L. Lewis and W. A. (Tony) Boyle - a revised constitution, an improved contract, and intensified safety program, energeic lobbying, democratization of union activities.

But the drafts of freedom caused problems. The rank-and-file reformers fell to squabbling among themselves, skirmishing for power, dividing in resolve to make the UMW a force for social change in the coalfields.

The separation between Patrick and his erstwhile ally, president Arnold Miller, became complete and intensely bitter. Patrick, charging Miller with leadership failures and abandonment of reform, challenged him for the presidency. But Miller won the election last June, with Patrick tunning third in a three-man field.

Patrick's campaign was aimed at uniting the politically torn union and resurrecting the aura of reform that gushed freely among its 227,000 members in 1972.

Patrick finished deeply in debt - friends are trying to raise money to pay off $25,000 still owed - but seemingly no poorer of spirit, although out of a job.

In labor and industry and legislative circles, there is a popular notion that the miners' experience can be taken as a proof that rank-and-file revolts, such as those among steelworkers and teamsters, are doomed before they start.

Even with his view from the downside of the things, Patrick is quick to challenge the notion.

"This was a shakedown period at the UMW and I think you had to expect that. The rank and file made an incredible amount of changes in a couple of years," he said.

"But total democracy is hard to handle and I think we would have had troubles no matter who took over. There were two factions with old ideas and new ideas, so there was going to be turmoil . . . But it's got to settle down now if the union is going to survive.

"What is needed now is a lot of communication between the top officers and the miners. The officers must be more visible and they must build more confidence between themselves and the rank and file."

For reformers in other unions, Patrick said, several lessons can be learned from the miners' revolt.

"One thing is that they have to build leadership while they reform. One of our problems as coal miners was a total lack of knowledge in who to call her to help us solve specific problems," he said.

"The other main thing is that any new leaders have to make peace with the enemies. We didn't and when miners got to ratify their contract for the first time in 1974, it was barely approved - a terrific contract but lack of confidence in us."

Despite the defeat, the debt, the unemployment, Patrick views himself as the luckiest man who ever walked out the Barrackville, W. Va., mines.

"It's been an education I couldn't have bought. I've been around the Horn, so to speak - done it all," he said.

"Imagine, for a miner to come out of the ground to control a $60 million treasury, to sit on the board of a national bank and to talk with all those people on Capitol Hill and in the government about miners' Problems. It's invaluable."

But for now, at least, what happens at the UMW will happen without Harry Patrick having a part in it.

"I went to see them succeed," he said. "I want to see the UMW grow. I want the public to understand that we are not crazy radicals. All the miner asks is a chance to go to work and come back out safe and alive and support his family.

"We're not telling the public that more than 100,000 miners have been killed in this century, that the injury rate is four times higher than [in] any other industry. I want that story told. There's a whole world waiting for the UMW to do all the kinds of things it can do."