WAXAHACHIE, TEX. -- For many citizens of this county seat, news that the Superconducting Super Collider is coming was just another step in the march toward progress for "buffalo creek," the Tonkawa Indian name for this former cattle-watering stop on drives along the old Shawnee Trail to Kansas.

For property owners forced to sell homes and ranches to make way for the land-gobbling super collider (SSC), however, the march toward progress seemed to be trampling them underfoot.

In March, the Energy Department announced the final "footprint" for its $8 billion project, a 54-mile-long, proton-accelerating ring scheduled for construction around this semi-rural community 28 miles south of Dallas in Ellis County. The first small land purchase by the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission is scheduled at noon today five miles west of here.

"We always thought this would be our next-to-last resting place," said Bernyce Crownover, who must sell the 207 acres on which she and her husband, Roy, have lived for 20 years. "We've always been strong supporters of the super collider, but we never planned on losing our home because of it. But hey, it's so big."

Building the SSC requires 17,000 acres for research and support facilities and for the accelerator tunnel, a ring so large that the country of Liechtenstein could fit twice with room to spare inside the more than 200-square-mile enclosure. Operations are to begin later this decade.

The super collider is designed so protons can be whipped in both directions around the tunnel until they approach the speed of light. At that point, they are to be guided into head-on collisions to produce microscopic but highly energetic explosions. In these explosions, physicists hope to discover the fundamental building blocks of matter and examine forces that theoretically hold all creation together, from atomic nuclei to the universe.

"I understand basically, but not exactly, what that thing's supposed to do," said Elmer Nooner, 75, as he paid for a haircut at the White House Barber Shop on Court House Square. "But I can tell you this: You've got to have progress, or things don't ever get any better for people."

Nooner seems to speak for the majority in this forward-looking, yet old-fashioned, community of 19,500, which over the last decade has attracted more than 6,000 new residents, mainly from the Dallas area. With 227 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Waxahachie has been a popular film site for such period movies as "Tender Mercies" and "A Trip to Bountiful."

In a place famous for its "Gingerbread Trail" tour of restored Victorian homes, the idea of being surrounded by a giant accelerator ring might seem upsetting to a few old-timers. But almost everyone seems to have super-collider fever.

"The SSC means so much not only to Dallas-Fort Worth, not only to Ellis County and Waxahachie, but to the world scientific community," said Buck Jordan, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "This is the biggest thing, literally and figuratively, that's ever happened to us."

George Black, 79, who has shined shoes for patrons of the White House Barber Shop since 1920, said he is "excited about it. It's so big." He said his mother, 99, with whom he lives, also supports the project.

In the face of such enthusiasm, land owners in the super collider's path are finding sympathy but little hope for reprieve.

"I have to move, and I don't have any choice," said C.O. Collier, 63, who retired from Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. eight years ago. Collier and his wife, Joann, custom-built their 2,100-square-foot home on four acres bought in 1978 as pasture land for their quarter horses. "I've got everything how I like it here," he said. "I hate the thought of starting over at my age." Land acquisition, which is to begin in earnest next month, was given a green light in May when Texas sold $250 million in state bonds to be used primarily for buying property in Ellis County. As part of its agreement with the Energy Department, Texas is to contribute $1 billion in bond money to the SSC's general coffers.

Numbers, however, cannot tell Collier's story. "I just like the lay of the land here," he said, looking out his front door at the expanse that stretches, interrupted by only a few trees, for miles until green grass meets blue sky in a line that makes the world seem as flat as a table top. "How can you put a price on something like that?" The flow chart should explain how, said John Slonaker, land-acquisition manager for the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission, which administers the SSC project.

"First, we identify the {land} parcel we need and notify the owner of our intent to purchase," he said, pointing at a circle on the poster he held in commission offices in the Dallas suburb of De Soto. He traced an arrow from the circle to the square and said, "Then we survey the land . . . . " His finger moved to a rectangle, and he added, "and then we make a property appraisal based on comparable sales studies."

He paused. "Now, here's where it gets complicated." His finger followed arrows all over the poster, from box to triangle to diamond to circle, as he explained what happens if an owner declines the commission's offer, how relocation assistance is provided, what supplemental payments are available.

"I know they've got some sort of formula for buying up land, but we just want a fair price for our property, and then we'll have to give it up," said Crownover, who said they are in their 60s. "We're not getting any younger," she said. "There's no point in trying to start over on what we did 20 years ago."

Roy Crownover crossbreeds cattle and grows hay on the 207 acres; his wife makes and cans preserves from grapes, peaches and plums that she grows. They have purchased a six-acre piece of land in Italy, south of Waxahachie.

"I know those people that have to relocate aren't very happy about the super collider," Jordan said. "But the SSC is the future. There's no avoiding the future."