Thanks for the advice... had a while where I couldn't mess with it but here are the results:
1) It passed once, failed another, so I downloaded from another site, burned slow and everything passed.
2) Nothing unusual... disabled PnP OS and set everything else back to basics
3) Totally nuked the drive and started over from scratch just to be sure
3) Did that
4) Same result. I checked "dmesg" and it didn't see any problems. Also passed all the tests I could find on the UBCD.
This last install the audo-detect had been selecting an invalide refresh rate for the screen and crashing, so I loaded it in VESA mode and there were no crashes. But still, nothing would run. Puppy Linux installs without a hitch and works great but the PCMCIA slot doesn't detect and I got burned out trying wrappers. Vector finds the PCMCIA slot and everything, but won't work. I guess I'm going to have to go Puppy or Windows 95, but I sure would like to use Vector. I'll start here on any other laptops I happen into for sure. Any other ideas?