Even better, I'd be thrilled if I could use rails and simply point a
model at my table and then very easily "find all" with the appropriate
conditions and iterate over the results, without worrying about any of
the backend database config or environment switching or anything like
It sounds like you're looking for "standalone ActiveRecord"
"Besides being a stand-alone ORM package for Ruby, Active Record is also the model part of the web-application framework Rails."
ie. you can use ActiveRecord "on its own" (outside the context of a full-stack Rails application) to do exactly what you're describing.