Installing on a Compact Flash card. Solved??
Well, after doing the GRUB MBR reinstall a dozen different ways I
decided that it wasn't the software. I took the laptop apart and pulled
the CF out, plugged it into my desktop through a USB-to-IDE connector,
and it booted!
I can successfully boot and use the CF drive on the desktop but putting
it back in the laptop results in the same problems. I guess it wasn't
meant to be and this +10yr old laptop really is at the end of the road.
Oh well. I have had my eye on the touchbook for a while now. Maybe it
is time to upgrade.
Thanks anyway for your help and suggestions!