There was no way Robert Lipscomb liked what he was about to do, standing there in the cold with a shiny aluminum lunchpail in his big hand.

Last week Lipscomb voted against the contract that his United Mine Workers negotiators had drawn up for him with the soft-coal industry.

As far as Lipscomb and the majority of strikers are concerned in the UMW's District 4, here in the lovely rolling hills of southwest Pennsylvania, the contract is a bummer and they want no part of it.

District 4 rejected the contract in Friday's voting. Miners at the U.S. steel Corp.'s Robena mine, where Lipscomb works, rejected it even more forcefully.

But enough of the union's 160,000 strikers voted for the new three-year agreement, and it took force at 12:01 a.m. yesterday in mines throughout the East.

So the 5,600 UMW miners in District 4 went back to work, many of them apparently not liking it any more than Lipscomb, but enticed by the prospect of a $100 bonus and a chance to break the boredom of a 110-day strike.

Lipscomb pondered the pneumatic growth around his middle, stretching his Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirt taut, and decided he had come back to Robena because of that, more than anything.

"Look at my belly. I feel like a woman. Soft. I want to go to work," he said.

And so when the bells began ringing in mid-afternoon signaling a shift change at Robena, about 16 miles down the road from Uniontown, Robert Lipscomb's strike was over.

"They didn't give us anything in this contract -- it's no better than the last one," he said. "But this is the only place you can get a job around here. What else you going to do?"

As the U.S. STeel miners at Robena went back to work yesterday, they went back also at the dozen other miners owned by big steel companies and utilities in Fayette and Greene counties.

James W. Kelly, District 4 president, said all 19 UMW locals in his distrct were working yesterday, despite several half-hearted efforts by picketing UMW construction workers to keep miners away from their jobs.

The construction workers, whose own contract was still unsettled, were talked out of their militance by miners who stood to pick up a $100 bonus just for showing up for their first regular shifts. Tomorrow -- when there is no bonus -- is another day, and the construction workers may be back.

"We made big money," said Daniel Johns, a miner for 31 years at Robena. "The bonus, plus the $100 clothing allowance and a day's pay."

Like other miners interviewed within earshot of the humming heavy machinery at Robena, Johns wasn't quite sure how much that day's pay will be. He had to refer to his copy of the contract to learn that his new scale as a motorman is $65 a day.

But there was a message in that. Since their strike began Dec. 6, miners have been saying that money wasn't the issue. They wanted more in the way of safety and job security, a better grievance system, improved medical care.

And then Johns relayed his own message: "They can take that money and shove it. I'd rather have the hospital care like it was, at no cost to me, instead of having to pay for part of it."

E. Angelo, still wearing a gritty eyeshadow of coal dust from his first day back driving long safety bolts into the mine roof, echoed Johns' words. Like Johns, he voted against the contract. And like Johns, he wasn't sure how much he now will make. (It turns out to be $73.32 per day.)

"I'd have stayed out another 100 days if they'd let me. Another week or two and I think we would have got what we wanted," said Angelo.

At his district office here, Rich Roberts, an aide to Rep. Austin J. Murphy (D-Pa.), reiterated what coal miners are saying -- that the public has not yet grasped that money was not the big issue in this strike.

"Pensions, safety, health care -- those were the big concerns," Roberts said. "The congressman felt, and the coal miners felt, that there also was a lack of understanding of this within the government, and at the White House."

"President Carter has lost tremendous ground up here, and it will have a ripple effect within families and the entire labor force," he added. Outside Robena, miners confirmed Roberts' assertion, denouncing Carter for invoking the Taft-Hartley Act against them.

For the time being, however, after the longest UMW strike in history, District 4 is working again and mines are expected to be back to full production within a week.

There was another bright note, albeit the kind of thing that makes prudent men knock on wood and whisper one more prayer.

Late yesterday, sitting in his office at Waynesburg some 30 miles southwest of here, Henry Zavora of the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

He had dispatched emergency crew of safety inspectors to the most dangerous mines on Easter night to make pre-shift examinations. They found all in order.

"During this long layoff, we found the mines had not deteriorated that much," Zavora said. "We've had no calls today, no reports of alleged unsafe conditions. This would indicate the mines have been well-maintained. The absence of calls speaks for itself."