I checked the native language support options from menuconfig and found that all the options were set as modules. Out of curiosity, I changed codepage 850 to be 'compiled in' as part of the kernel and recompiled. I then changed my fstab line to reallow the codepage=850 and tried mounting the CD again and got the old problem not sure why. Maybe I needed some other value set in my environment during compilation for this to work? I'm not too worried about it since the CD works, but I am still curious and I've recompiled this kernel about 5 times already today
I've found the problem with the ethernet stuff now too. It seems to be that I was building ethernet on firewire support as a module. I've double checked and it is in the config for the kernel source that I downloaded from Mandrake too, however when I disabled ethernet on firewire in the kernel config for 2.6.7 then reconfigured my NICs the problem of the 'phantom' ethernet card went away (the phantom was actually the firewire controller).
Thanks very much for the help on this! I do appreciate it very much and I am learning