LOGAN, W.Va. (AP) _ Shortly after dawn on the first of the month, a parade of people begins trickling into the Logan Post Office. They crowd into the little lobby, staring into space or talking quietly while waiting.

It's Check Day.

''This is the best day of the month, by far,'' said a dark-haired woman leaning against a wanted poster. ''There's nothing like Check Day in Logan.''

Check Day is the name locals have given to the day each month on which a flood of federal and state transfer payments - various pension, benefit and welfare checks - flows into this small, economically pressed Appalachian coalfield town.

Like rain in the desert, this deluge of dollars causes Logan's economy to bloom: Stores offer special promotions and sales; the town's two streets fill with people; a sense of excitment pervades the air.

''It's just like Christmas,'' said postmaster Patricia Sidebottom. ''It gives everybody a lift.''

Most communities across the country have some version of Check Day, notes West Virginia University economist William Miernyk. However, in Appalachian communities like Logan, where many coal mines have closed and the official unemployment rate is 17 percent, the effect is particularly pronounced.

''The number of transfer payments is higher in Appalachia than the nation as a whole,'' Miernyk said.

The reasons for this include the region's high percentage of disabled, widowed and jobless residents, plus the large number of retirees, especially retired coal miners.

On the first of each month, many of these miners or their widows receive at least four checks - a Social Security pension, federal compensation for the miner's disease Black Lung, veterans' benefits and a miner's retirement check.

Postmaster Sidebottom says some families receive six checks or more.

''This post office serves 10,000 people in the town of Logan and outlying areas. We put up more than 2,500 checks each month,'' she said. ''And, remember, that doesn't include all the people who have gone to direct deposit now.''

Across the street, at the Logan National Bank, long lines formed as people waited to cash their checks. Eva McCormick watched from her women's clothing store on Stratton Street.

''They cash their checks and the first thing they do is come in and pay their bills,'' she said. ''We've got good people here but we wouldn't have anything without Check Day, the way things are in the mines.''

A lifelong resident, Mrs. McCormick has seen uncounted Check Days. She says Logan, for the most part, lives from Check Day to Check Day the way many people live from paycheck to paycheck.

''We're always real busy from the first of the month until about the 10th. Then the money's all spent and things are quiet again until the next Check Day,'' she said.

On down the street, at Watson's Department Store, manager Bill Stanley said his store is having a banner year, despite the area's depressed economy and Logan's high unemployment rate. He attributed his success to aggressive merchandising but acknowledged that Check Day helps business.

''I would estimate that Check Day brings in millions of dollars to Logan County each year, mostly in earned retirement benefits'' he said.

Social Security officials confirmed Stanley's estimate.

In Logan County - population 50,000 - 9,600 disability and retirement Social Security checks are issued each month totaling $3.8 million, or nearly $50 million annually. An additional $1 million is distributed each month to the county's 3,793 Black Lung compensation recipients.

State and federal welfare checks bring in $8 million more a year, not counting unemployment checks or worker's compensation.

All of those, plus Railroad Retirement benefits and other checks, were being stuffed by clerks into post office boxes, many plucked out within seconds by recipients.

In the lobby, Arnold Gore was waiting for his checks.

''I get three checks, Black Lung, Social Security disability and my miner's pension,'' said Gore, 62. ''Together, they amount to about $1,300.''

Gore said he retired recently after working 38 years in the mines.

''My wife and I raised seven kids,'' he said. ''Our house is paid for but we had a heck of a time doing it, especially back in the '60s when they mechanized the mines and there wasn't any work. I pumped gas, picked up pop bottles, put up drywall; I did a little of everything to bring money in.''

Gore, who said he was injured twice in mine roof falls, always looks forward to Check Day.

''When I retired, the boys at the mine give me a big knife and a hundred dollar bill, but it wasn't nothing like this,'' he said, holding up the three manila envelopes he had just taken from his mail box.

Ed Canterbury, president of the Logan Bank & Trust, estimates most retired miners have $1,600 to $2,000 coming in each month. He said these transfer payments literally keep Logan afloat.

Like Logan, many U.S. communities have begun gearing their economies to transfer payments, which now constitute the largest single source of income in economically depressed West Virginia.

''Transfer payments are a growing part of personal income in the United States and something economists, belatedly, have begun to worry about,'' said Miernyk. ''As our population continues to get older, this trend will accelerate.''

In Logan, however, the only worry about Check Day is that it might not come someday.

''This town would be in big trouble without Check Day,'' said Sidebottom. ''Anybody would tell you that.''

End Adv Sunday May 31