Thanks for the compliment Scotty----ordinarily I'd downplay such a thing but after these past few days I'll take it---gladly!
Completely with you on not knowing if there's a leak until after its all back together---over my "career" I've never had any water pump leak after assembled but have known others to go through that. Water first as a test, no need to waste good coolant.
As it turns out my coolant issues aren't at all related to the water pump---that's a relief. I did watch a few YouTube videos and if changing one is unavoidable it shouldn't be too daunting. I can return to solving the heated vent outlets---creating my own "cold air option" so to speak. Also working on selecting and installing a very heavy duty rear sway bar, one where its installed very differently from the typical method where the frame attachment points face the front---trying to have those facing the rear.
If anything interesting or useful to others comes of that I'll be sure to post it here.
Thanks again everyone---great replies!