You're actually just mad at the kernel that came with your distro. That's easily fixed, and instructions are abundant. Really, I spot checked and there is 35 year old hardware still supported, you just have to know what you're doing. If you're installing Linux on obscure hardware, you should already know how to do this.
I just grabbed the Linux 3.4.107 kernel (from kernel.org), which is still being supported. 3.6 dropped i386 support, so I'm going for the full support argument here. :)
I did this on a x64, so I needed to export the correct arch.
$ export ARCH=i386 ; make menuconfig
Processor type and features -> Processor family -> 
Bus options -> ISA support -> [checked]
Bus options -> PCI support -> [unchecked]
Bus options -> PCCard (PCMCIA/CardBus) support -> [unchecked]
Networking support -> Networking options -> [whatever other/old network types you want] ... IPX, Appletalk, CCITT x.25
Now you can support any antique ISA card on a i386 you want.
Device Drivers -> Network device support -> Ethernet driver support ->
All the old ISA cards that I can think of are supported. Here's a screen shot of the make config for network card drivers only, with just what I put above. I set them all to build, to expand out everything. In practice, only build the one you're using, and/or make modules so you can load them rather than building them.