Bobbyg and Eric,
Thanks for the comments... this has been an amazing journey.
Eric - having gotten this far (a long way to go yet) I think hooking up with a good instructor or at least someone who can show you the ropes is essential. Trying to do this alone would be a challenge unless you are exceptionally well-skilled in handling tools like these.
I am really eager to see this rod through to the end and start casting it to see what it will do!