Neal Evans lives in a $180-a-month room with stove in the Dixie Hunt Hotel here, watching his savings slip away, riding the back roads to find work. A certified welder, he has had interviews with a dozen companies since he lost his $12,000-a-year job weatherizing houses for the poor under a federal grant that ran out five months ago.

His job prospects look bleak, he says, slumping into a worn leather chair in the dreary hotel lobby, a victim of Reaganomics. A working man, he should hate the president's tight-fisted economics, like the more than 250,000 who marched in Washington in protest Saturday. But he doesn't.

"Ronald Reagan is the best thing that has happened to America since the pop-top beer can," says Evans, 47, a retired Navy chief petty officer who was wounded twice in Vietnam.

He adds that he's willing to give up his military retirement pay, too, "as long as everyone else gives up theirs," if that's what it takes to balance the budget. "The government doesn't owe me a thing. I'll make it on my own."

Beyond the Potomac, people like Evans offer a counterpoint to the rising level of concern over Reagan budget policies expressed by the throngs who marched in the largest Washington rally since civil rights days. They were mad as hell, fed up.

But walk down Main Street in this conservative southern town, billed as the Chicken Capital of the World for its processing plants, where 700,000 birds are plucked and packaged a day, and you'll find dozens of working-class people like Evans, middle managers, small businessmen, Democrats and Republicans who exhibit a remarkable spirit of self-sacrifice.

Many say they'll stay behind the president, even as his policies nibble away at their American dreams.

"The man-on-the-street interviews we do show a good deal of support for the president," said Robert Campbell, the balding, bespectacled editor of The Gainesville Times. "The general feeling is, 'Give Reagan a chance' " to let his policies take effect.

The town, population 35,000, lies 50 miles north of Atlanta. This is the heartland of Carter country, in the only Deep South state to vote against Reagan last November. But Campbell describes that vote as "more pro-Carter than anti-Reagan, Carter being the home boy."

In the Dixie Hunt Hotel bar, a crowd of insurance agents, lawyers, real estate salesmen, secretaries and school teachers celebrated that it was Friday and toasted the Georgia Bulldogs.

One patron, a federal agent, has a wife, three children and a mortgage, but was almost upbeat about the news that Reagan planned to ax his whole department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"Some may call me a naive fool, but I've been a bureaucrat 16 years and if it takes my job to get this country back on track, so be it," he said, nursing a drink with friends. "This country has been going for the last 50 years borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. There comes a time when you have to 'fess up."

High interest rates have kept buyers away from his used car lot, said Bill Millican, 45, a Goldwater Republican. "But if that's what it takes to stop inflation, let's do it," he said. "I'm willing to bite the bullet." He's slashed the price on his cars; he hopes the bar "cuts the price on their beer. It's got to stop somewhere, hopefully."

Cutbacks in federal aid to the handicapped have forced county officials to slash special education programs like the one that trains Robert Carr's 15-year-old retarded daughter, "my pride and joy." But Carr isn't bitter.

"I'll have to bear with it," says the 48-year-old poultry plant personnel manager. "The cuts are hurting me and many people, but there's no other way. We'll be nationally bankrupt otherwise."

Not everyone hereabouts remains thrilled over falling stock prices, soaring interest rates, tax reductions, budget cuts, a tight-fisted monetary policy and plans to slash Social Security, as Washington policies trickle down to these rustic foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains.

At a shopping mall on the outskirts of town, grim-faced farmers in overalls lowered the tailgates on mud-caked pickups and talked of their hard times as they began hawking okra, tomatoes, snap beans, relish.

Johnny Redd, 68, a farmer who voted for Reagan, raises gourds and corn on 126 acres just outside town. The cost of fertilizer has doubled since Reagan took office, he groused. He wants to trade in his 1966 Chevrolet pickup, but doesn't have $14,000 for a new one.

The little money he earns at open air markets "don't go nowhere. I can't get a dollar ahead. It was bad enough when Carter was in there, but now it's worse. Don't know who to blame it on, but prices have got to stop someplace."

He came out of retirement after Reagan took office. "I had to go back to work," he said. "He's put all us old folks back to work." He waved a callused hand toward the gray-haired farmers in the parking lot. "Look at all these old folks out here."

Beyond the town square, where a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stands watch just a stone's throw from a 30-foot marble monument to a rooster, Wayne McGee, 50, cooks up perhaps the tastiest fried chicken in town at the L&K Cafeteria, where he earns $200-a-week. He's still keeping the faith with Reagan, he says, even though high interest rates have made it hard for him to borrow what he needs to build an extra bedroom.

"I figure if we stick with his policy, it will bring rates down. But we've got to let his tax cuts and cuts on all the programs take effect. We gotta give him time."

At the L&K, mill workers sit side-by-side with the millionaires who own some of the town's mills and poultry plants. McGee, who conducts his own straw poll outside the kitchen, says "the millionaires are for him and the workers are for him. We only have a couple who aren't" for Reagan's policies.

"I like everything he's doing except for Social Security cuts," he says.

Kevin Brown, 24, a black who earns $4.92 an hour as a poultry worker, says he voted for Reagan and would vote for him today. "At least he's trying," he said. "He's done everything he said he would do. But he needs to cut more programs. A lot of people need help, but there are a lot of people on welfare who could get a job."

Real estate appraiser James Patterson, 68, spooning some cherry cobbler, said, "I'm a Democrat, but I'm with Reagan. With Carter, we were going to hell down a one-way street."

Yet, he sympathized with those who felt the squeeze. "I don't want anyone to suffer. I've been down and out myself. I just don't want to pay for parasites," he said.

"I say cut waste from federal programs, make 'em hard-nosed. Everybody should have an opportunity, but no one should have a premium. It's going to hurt, but the only way to save ourselves is to get up off the floor and fight, hit the other guy more than he hits you."

Bob Williams sells whiskey, and Reagan, he says, has started people drinking the hard stuff like nothing he's ever seen. He adores the president's policies. "People are buying anything to kill the pain of inflation," he says.

"The worse the economy is, the better my business is. People are drinking and getting divorced. When Reagan finishes cutting all the CETA workers, I'll make a fortune selling cheap wine." cuts, a tight-fisted monetary policy and plans to slash Social Security, as Washington policies trickle down to these rustic foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains.

At a shopping mall on the outskirts of town, grim-faced farmers in overalls lowered the tailgates on mud-caked pickups and talked of their hard times as they began hawking okra, tomatoes, snap beans, relish.

Johnny Redd, 68, a farmer who voted for Reagan, raises gourds and corn on 126 acres just outside town. The cost of fertilizer has doubled since Reagan took office, he groused. He wants to trade in his 1966 Chevrolet pickup, but doesn't have $14,000 for a new one.

The little money he earns at open air markets "don't go nowhere. I can't get a dollar ahead. It was bad enough when Carter was in there, but now it's worse. Don't know who to blame it on, but prices have got to stop someplace."

He came out of retirement after Reagan took office. "I had to go back to work," he said. "He's put all us old folks back to work." He waved a callused hand toward the gray-haired farmers in the parking lot. "Look at all these old folks out here."

Beyond the town square, where a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stands watch just a stone's throw from a 30-foot marble monument to a rooster, Wayne McGee, 50, cooks up perhaps the tastiest fried chicken in town at the L&K Cafeteria, where he earns $200-a-week. He's still keeping the faith with Reagan, he says, even though high interest rates have made it hard for him to borrow what he needs to build an extra bedroom.

"I figure if we stick with his policy, it will bring rates down. But we've got to let his tax cuts and cuts on all the programs take effect. We gotta give him time."

At the L&K, mill workers sit side-by-side with the millionaires who own some of the town's mills and poultry plants. McGee, who conducts his own straw poll outside the kitchen, says "the millionaires are for him and the workers are for him. We only have a couple who aren't" for Reagan's policies.

"I like everything he's doing except for Social Security cuts," he says.

Kevin Brown, 24, a black who earns $4.92 an hour as a poultry worker, says he voted for Reagan and would vote for him today. "At least he's trying," he said. "He's done everything he said he would do. But he needs to cut more programs. A lot of people need help, but there are a lot of people on welfare who could get a job."

Real estate appraiser James Patterson, 68, spooning some cherry cobbler, said, "I'm a Democrat, but I'm with Reagan. With Carter, we were going to hell down a one-way street."

Yet, he sympathized with those who felt the squeeze. "I don't want anyone to suffer. I've been down and out myself. I just don't want to pay for parasites," he said.

"I say cut waste from federal programs, make 'em hard-nosed. Everybody should have an opportunity, but no one should have a premium. It's going to hurt, but the only way to save ourselves is to get up off the floor and fight, hit the other guy more than he hits you."

Bob Williams sells whiskey, and Reagan, he says, has started people drinking the hard stuff like nothing he's ever seen. He adores the president's policies. "People are buying anything to kill the pain of inflation," he says.

"The worse the economy is, the better my business is. People are drinking and getting divorced. When Reagan finishes cutting all the CETA workers, I'll make a fortune selling cheap wine."