Henry (Raleigh NC)
A friend let me use his HF handheld power planer - that was sitting unused except for the one project that he had used it for. It looks very similar (not exact) to the <$100 options out there - Ryobi, Craftsman, and I am sure others.
I set it for a fine cut, and away I went - hooking the shop vac to the output to collect chips (very effective BTW)!
I flattened (mostly) about 5' of bench in about 1/4 of the time that it had taken me to previously do about 3'; previously I had used a door planer for the edges and a hand plane for the rest. With a fine setting on the power planer and many passes, it was possible to 'control the beast' and not to create substantial damage. So I am pleased with the result. It's a bit different than a hand plane in the way the blade and the base are setup; it's more like a stationary planer, with the 'outfeed' set to align with the blade depth, not like a hand plane that has the blade 'protrude' beyond the base.
Anyways as a relatively crude surface modification tool - it works. It helps to have reasonable expectations - this will not replace a finely set hand plane.
Thanks all for the above advice and offers. This solution will suffice (in the present at least).