Where does a top bureaucrat go when he has put in 20 years and has just finished a stint helping to run one of the biggest government agencies in the world?

In the case of David Newhall III, you head for the country to start a business making fence pickets--and not just any old ordinary fence pickets.

For 18 years, Newhall served as administrative assistant to Richard S. Schweiker when he was a member of Congress, and then as Schweiker's chief of staff when he was secretary of health and human services.

But when Schweiker left HHS this year to join the American Council of Life Insurance, Newhall chose not to join him.

"I'd decided long before that I wanted to do something new. Having been chief of staff of an agency with 145,000 employes and a huge budget, where else do you go?"

Newhall, 45, thought about other jobs in business or government. But a few years earlier, he and Larry Tomayko, 35, an executive assistant to Schweiker, had bought Marmian Farm, an old plantation in King George County, Va., near Fredericksburg, for $335,000. They put in their life savings, Newhall said, and planned to restore it eventually.

With Schweiker's departure, Newhall said moving down to the farm full-time to complete its restoration and start a new business "from the ground up" seemed increasingly appealing.

The farmhouse was one of the oldest surviving ones in Virginia, with 10 rooms, plus the original smokehouse, outdoor kitchen and storehouse.

They found four wooden fence pickets, nearly five feet high with a diamond shape on top, holding up the back of the chimney. Newhall said that the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities has told them that "they may be the oldest surviving wooden fence pickets in the country," dating back to the late 1600s.

They got the idea of selling replicas of the pickets and invented a set of saws to cut out the designs themselves. They plan to sell the pickets through lumber store chains for about $2 apiece.

"The machine will do 2,000 a day, and we'll have to sell 150,000 a year if this business is to be a success," Newhall said.

The two men also plan to start a herd of breeding cattle on the 275-acre farm, but that will be a sideline to the main business--the pickets.

And until those pickets start moving, Newhall's income, which was $67,200 when he was at HHS, will be zero. In fact, he said, because of the drought this summer, he and Tomayko expect to lose $4,000 this year on a hay and steer-feeding operation they had been running with the help of a local farmer.

Still, Newhall's not complaining about his new life.

"You wake up in the morning and you see three bald eagles in your pond, wild turkeys and quail walking across your back yard," he said.