The Russians have been coming to this remarkable little farming town in the rolling corn fields of central Iowa for almost three decades.

Alan Johnston at the Coast-to-Coast Hardware Store remembers the one who bought all the door knobs he had in stock. Tom Crystal recalls the day he put the Soviet farm expert on a tractor and told him, "Go out and spy all you want."

And anyone in town can tell you about the September day in 1959 when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev put Coon Rapids on the map by visiting Roswell Garst's farm just east of the city limits. "I have seen today how the slaves of capitalism live, and they live pretty well," Khrushchev declared.

Given all this, it should come as no surprise that the night President Reagan reported to Congress and the nation on his summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, this town called on its own expert, John Crystal.

Some 60 people drove through the snow to listen to Crystal speak before the Federated Women's Club at the Municipal Building. They heard the kind of candid, no-holds-barred talk they have learned to expect from him.

Crystal is a nephew of Roswell Garst, and during his years as president of Iowa Savings Bank here kept a full-sized poster of Lenin on his office wall. He may know the Russians better than Reagan ever will.

Crystal, now president of Bankers Trust Bank in Des Moines 75 miles away, has visited the Soviet Union every other year since 1960. Twice, he has met personally with Gorbachev.

What did he think of the summit?

"It was a success because it wasn't a failure," he said. "Nothing much was accomplished. We'll keep spending 30 percent of our national budget on defense, and they'll keep spending 30 percent of their budget until we get 'Star Wars,' then both sides will spend more."

"I'm not a peacenik," he added. "I think the Russians will be a problem for a long, long time."

Until that night, the summit hadn't caused much of a stir in this town of 1,400. "To tell the truth, I haven't heard much talk about it," said barber Jim Herminling, who hands out business cards that read, "I need your head for my business."

"Mostly people are talking about the Rose Bowl and the big University of Iowa game against the Minnesota Gophers," he added. "Then, you hear a lot about the poor economy and the good crops. Everyone is down in the dumps about the rotten farm economy."

Rev. Jeffery Blakeley at Ascension Lutheran Church agreed. He had 20 farmers in his congregation two years ago; he expects only 10 to survive the spring as farmers. The rest will be driven out of business by high interest rates and low agriculture prices and land values.

"There is a lot of anger and frustration out there. People are so wrapped up in their own problems that they have trouble looking at something like the summit," he said somberly. "We're losing our middle-class farmers. Some compare what's happening to the Great Depression. I think it's much worse. It's more like the upheaval in the South after the Civil War."

The question about the summit that was asked most last week in Coon Rapids, which takes its name from the Raccoon River, was, "Why did Reagan wait five years to meet with his Soviet counterpart?"

"I think it a summit should be done on a yearly basis," Dennis Reineke said over coffee at Phil and Sharon's Coffee Shop. "We're in a very serious situation. Either side can press a button and destroy the world. I'm for anything that can make my life last a little longer."

The name of Roswell Garst, who died in 1977, comes up in almost every conversation about the Soviets here. By all accounts, he was a remarkable man, a farmer and banker whose earthy nature appealed to Khrushchev. Harrison E. Salisbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, described him as "a man really larger than life, a virtual genius in his field . . . who became an evangelist in pursuit of his conviction that great national and world problems could be solved -- or at least alleviated -- by new technology, specifically, by new farming techniques."

"Roswell Garst always said if we keep their the Soviets bellies full, they won't fight," Alan Johnston said at his hardware store the other day. "I've always accepted that."

Garst sold hundreds of thousands of bushels of corn to the Soviets. The seed company that bears his name promoted visits by Russians, Chinese, Romanians and others.

His nephew Tom Crystal, a farmer, said he learned one big lesson from his contacts with Soviets: "Basically, people don't want war. Governments want war."

The Garst Seed Co. was recently sold to Imperial Chemical Industries, a London conglomerate. Roswell Garth's son, Steve, is frustrated that the diplomacy his father started has not succeeded.

"It's been a failure of leadership," he said. "I think people are ahead of their leaders in Russia as well as the United States. We keep moving toward a war noboby wants, nobody can win, and probably will mean the end of mankind."