i've been bad about posting problems, getting advice, and never posting my solution. i'm not going to be like that anymore. i fixed my problem, and this is what it was....
I had an older starter solenoid (some call them starter relay) that's mounted to the block next to the engine breaker, and it went bad at the beginning of this summer. I bought a new one and installed it being extremely careful to wire it back EXACTLY the same way the old one was wired in. Turns out who ever wired the old one did it wrong. For some reason there was a wire coming from one of the ballast resistor posts (the one that shares the wire with the coil) to the "I" post on the starter solenoid. I noticed that when the key was turned to the on position for only a short few minutes, the "S" and "I" posts on the starter solenoid got super hot to the touch. I noticed this while testing the voltage across the stater solenoid (of course finding that no juice was flowing through it. This was my first clue that something wasn't right. So I disconnected the errant wire and like that the starter turned right over. Apparently the incorrect wiring was causes a short in the starter solenoid that was preventing it from doing it's job of sending current to the starter.
Lesson learned: on an older engine, even if it's been working for a while and especially if you're not the original owner, it's a good idea to check all your wiring. It's amazing how simple the wiring for these old engines is. Thanks King for the wiring diagram! In about 15 minutes I was able to trace out the wires for the entire system and know exactly that everything was wired up correctly except for my one problem area.
Side note, and another question: I used the wire that was incorrectly installed as a jumper, to jump the ballast resister just as the wiring diagram shows and as instructions regarding EI suggest. The distributor does have EI in it. When I did that, the engine still runs fine, but the Tach goes hay-wire. It bounces all over the place, and obviously gives no accurate reading. Oddly, when I turn the blower on, the tach functions normally. It seems to me that when the ballast resistor is bypassed, too much current it flowing to the coil (where the Tach wire is connected and getting it's reading) and the Tach goes bonkers. When the blower is on, it draws down enough current to make the Tach behave normally. That's my theory anyway. So to get a couple runs in yesterday, I disconnected the "jumper wire" and had at it. My question for you guys is this: I know EI wants the ballast resistor bi-passed (jumped) I guess to get full juice in the coil, but is it necessary to do so? If so, then does anyone have a solution for my Tach? Is this Tach gauge rated for a lower amperage, therefore not behaving properly when the ballast resistor is jumped? If so, do I need to buy a new Tach? Is there a way to re-wire something to make the Tach work right?
Thanks again everyone!