Well, after trying various permuations of IDE interfaces, cables and drive connections, it seems the boot drive doesn't like it when anything is connected to the secondary IDE interface on the motherboard. Very odd. Doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the secondary channel because the boot drive is detected fine when I put it there. Whenever I have the boot drive on the primary and something on the secondary the system refuses to detect anything on either IDE channel.
Good thing for the IDE card I stuck in the computer a couple of years back or I'd have to give up the CD and DVD burners on the secondary channel. With a bit of creative wiring and a tiny bit of cable stretching, I was able to take the optical drives I had on the secondary and plug them into the IDE card.
Everything booted up just fine and all was good once again.
I guess it's time to start thinking about replacing the computer soon. Purchased it 5 years ago right before 9/11 happened (the suspension of air traffic for the few days afterward delayed shipping of the computer). I'd been planning on upgrading the CPU with a Powerleap PL-P4N and matching CPU to nearly double the processing power from 1.5 GHz to 2.6 or 2.8 GHz. Now with this latest finickyness (can I use that word?) I'm thinking maybe we should bite the bullet and go with a full system replacement instead. The way our budget is currently, it'll be at least 6 months before we can think about budgeting for a new system
Just one more thing to work in I guess.