Curious, the political breed.

There are show horses, who strut and make names for themselves. There are stunt horses, who leap through hoops and vanish. There are race horses, who run in circles at great speeds.

Then there are the dray horses, pulling the beer wagon of public affairs from so far back in the pack of obscurity that the folks along Main Street hardly notice.

Which is approximately where this story about a history-making Republican U.S. senator from North Dakota has to begin.

Now, Milton R. Young is anything but obscure at home. But it wasn't until last month that Washington's political railbirds realized that, good grief, this GOP dray horse had been around the Senate for 35 years.

No Republican senator in history has built a longer record of continuous service and only Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) outranks him in tenure in the present Sentate. Young is the only member of Congress born in the 19th century.

So the Sentate paused last month to smother the 82-year-old Dakotan with an hour or so of praise and commemoration. He is retiring at the end of this year.

Everyone talked about his integrity, his reliability, his devotion to duty, his guidance and friendship, all traditional senatorial virtues.As others have done on similar occasions, Young called it "the most memorable hour" of his life.

Once past this hyperbole, an interesting picture emerges. Everyone knows about the politicans who come to this city and forget their roots. They become more Washington figures than citizen represenative of their home states or districts. Once in a while, some famous figure loses an election because of this.

Milton Young has turned this pattern upside down. He seems to be pretty much the same man today that he was when he came to Washington.

He also is one of those politicans who decided early on that his business here was mainly improving the lot of his state, channeling federal assistance when he could and working on bills with an impact at home.

The rural and sparsely populated nature of his state has insulated Young from the push and shove of urban decay, civil rights, industrial pollution that many other senators must cope with.

With that advantage, he has been able to use his position as ranking Republican on the Agriculture and Appropriations committees to carry the federal farm and military bacon back to North Dakota. Call them the Three W's: Wheat, Water and Weapons.

Young said the other day that his proudest accomplishments include having landed money for seven major water projects and seven federal research laboratories for North Dakota. He also is proud of having been a staunch supporter of defense spending, and a good deal of it has occurred in North Dakota.

It may be something of a sign that the times have begun to outrun Uncle Milton, as his Senate buddies like to call him, because his advocacy of some of those programs is starting to rebound on him.

A reclamation-irrigation project he has championed for years, the unfinished Garrison Diversion Unit, is causing a wave of opposition at home. And his staunch military views, including support of the Vietnam war, have stirred questions.

Richard Madson, a young man raised on a North Dakota farm, just as Young was, is one of the harshest critics. Madson, of Jamestown, N.D., is the National Audubon Society's regional representative and an opponent of Garrison.

"Young's philosophy is to bring money into the home district," Madson said. "But in fairness, he is responding to a mood in the state. People demand fiscal responsibility in every district but their own."

"With his support of the U.S. missile program, Young has made North Dakota the nation's No. 1 nuclear target," Madson continued. "And on Garrison, I've given up trying to communicate economic data to him. If the 11th commandment were, 'Thou Shalt Not Build Garrison,' Milton Young would break the stone tablets."

Young concedes that the tide is turning on Garrison, but his view isn't changing. He's as adamant about the need for the project as he is about many other things.

One of those things happens to be another Republican, Mark Andrews, the state's only congressman, with whom he has been feuding bitterly for a decade.

Their battle, apparently spurred by Young's belief that Andrews is lusting after his Senate seat and that Andrews goes out of his way to irritate him, kept newspapers humming all winter long in North Dakota.

Young's displeasure reached such a point that he was considering the idea of retiring early this year and allowing Gov. Arthur Link, a Democrat, to name a Democrat to the vacancy just to spite Andrews.

The senator blamed Andrew's pestering for a nervous condition that forced him to take a rest at the Mayo Clinic during the winter. Young planned to swing back, but suspended that when Andrew's wife became seriously ill.

The rancor persists, even though Young declared a moratorium on his attacks. "He is jealous and very ambitious and he just can't wait," Young said the other day.

But he made a concession that no one has heard for 10 years, at least. "Andrews is a capable man and he would be a good senator," Yound said.

Andrews, for his part, is staying quiet and remaining puzzled about the volcanic relationship they have had. North Dakota Democrats, of course, are loving the feud; state Republicans are worried that it will destroy the party.

The Grand Forks Herald editorialized two months ago that the squabble had become "a banal embarrassment." The paper blamed Young for the situation and lamented that his own considerable dignity was being marred.

In person, Young is the picture of dignity. Age has bent his long frame a bit, but his face is still as leathery as it was when he left his farm in 1945 to comes here as an appointee from a seat in the legislature. He is a quiet man and even at the peak of power on his committees, he is more listener than talker.

That'e the way people like to think of solid farm folks and Young plays the role well. He was born on his father's country spread in 1897, at a time when there were no telephones and the nearest doctor was 11 miles distant. t

It's a little hard to visualize the place and time. North Dakota still was semi-frontier and after the turn of the century it was swept with the populist fervor of farmers organizing the Nonpartisan League. "They were too liberal for me," Young said.

Young grew up on the family farm but times were hard and he wanted to contribute in some way after he had gone down to college in Iowa. He ran for the school board in 1924 and won. In fact, he has held public office continuously since then, never losing an election.

In the early 1930s, and by then a member of the township board, Young was called in by a local political kingmaker and told to get ready to run for the legislature. "The hell I am," Young said. He ran, however, and won by three dozen votes.

After he got to the legislature, Young and others set about reorganizing the state's gimpy Republican Party, an effort that led eventually to his trip to Washington. One of the ironies is that Young's current feud with Mark Andrews has subjected the state GOP to some serious whiplash.

But, like the golfer he is, Young plays it as it lies. "He's old-school rather than showboat," said a committee assistant who has known Young for years. "He is better than a lot of the younger guys in some respects -- a tenacious fighter for what he believes, devoted to his district, faithful to his duties. He has the best attendance of any Republican on Appropriations this year."

"But many a time he's gone by the rules that some members of Congress are not willing to do. He won't push a project just because he's the senior man. He could have pushed for more, but he doesn't run with the rabbits and bark with the dogs."

Old-school is a good way to say it. His office walls are studded with memorial photos (North Dakotans Angie Dickenson and Lawrence Welk prominent among them) and scenes of early-day farming that Young revels in talking about. Young also is not impressed with the new-style politics.

"Senators used to be more dependent on public speaking, on party support and grass-roots support. Now they have to be sophisticated and look good on T.V.," Young said.

"There is too much telling people what they want to hear.It is easier to fool the public over TV than going out and mingling with people. I have always tried to stay close to the people. In North Dakota to be elected and to stay on, you have to know the farmers and stay close to them. They are loyal to a fault."

But when Democratic opponent Bill Guy used the age issue against Young in his last campaign in 1974, the senator put that to rest by resorting to new-style politics. He went on TV and smashed an inch-thick board with a karate chop -- proof plenty of his vigor.

There was an earlier time, in his 1968 race, when Young handled a political problem with equal finality. North Dakota was swept by a rumor that Eric Sevareid, the television commentator, was returning home to run for Young's Senate seat.

When Young got back to the state, reporters besieged him with questions about the Sevareid candidacy. He put it to rest with one line.

"What does Eric Sevareid know about wheat?" he asked.