The history of the early 1800s in the United States’ development holds meaning for today. More than we tend to realize. Back before Mississippi was a state, the Federal Government called it “I.T.,” short for Indian Territory. Territories were not “settled” from a Federal viewpoint. During those times, many footpaths established by Native American Tribes—for instance, the Choctaws—became passable roads for travel by foot, horses, carriages and stage coaches. The opportunity for interim settlers, mostly whites but not always, became obvious: Where are the Holiday Inns of the day? There were some, of course, but they were rudimentary places along the paths from here to there, offering a break in the daily travels, food, drink, and overnight accommodations. They were typically called “Stands,” and most often had enslaved peoples working there.
Inns, or stands, provided occasional shelter for travelers along the Natchez Trace from the 1790s to the 1840s. These stands offered food to eat and food for thought: local news, information, and ideas. The ever-changing mix of diverse people – whites, American Indians, African Americans – interacted at the stands on a regular basis.National Park Service
My portable operations team, consisting of Mike N5DU, Thomas N5WDG, Mike K5XU and myself, availed ourselves of such a break in the daily tasks on Saturday, October 9, 2021 to activate the historic site of Brashear’s Stand on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Ridgeland, MS. It’s just a mile or two from my house. Here’s what it was like back more than a century ago:
Brashears Stand is named after Turner Brashears, who moved to the area in the late 1700s. He became a trader with the Choctaw and learned their language.
“In 1806 Turner Brashears placed an advertisement in the Natchez newspaper about his stand labeling it “A house of Entertainment on the road leading from Natchez to Nashville.” Travelers on the Natchez Trace generally seemed to be pleased with their treatment and accommodations at Brashears Stand. In 1807 Reverend Jacob Young, a Methodist preacher, wrote “Near the line that divided the Choctaw Nation from the Mississippi Territory stood a fine public house kept by a man by the name of Brashears…He treated us very well but knew how to make a high bill.” In addition to earning money from his stand operation, Brashears prospered by selling land and enslaved people.” (National Park Service)
The Stand no longer exists but it’s a testament to what we hams sometime take for granted when we get outdoors to enjoy our hobby. One inspiration of mine to better understand these environs is the well-known POTA and SOTA activator and blogger, Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL (see QRPer.com). He is always appreciative in his blog posts about the park or summit he’s activating. This area was the location my team chose for our very first POTA activation. Here’s the setup, two permanent picnic tables with 100+ foot pines. That and perfect weather make for an enjoyable time whether the band conditions follow suit or not.
The four of us paired up at each of the two permanently mounted picnic tables. We placed old sheets on top of the tables. You may guess why since there are lots of birds in the area! We used N5DU’s Xiegu G90 (the one Rob Sherwood tested for his website) for FT8, K5XU’s Kenwood 590s for CW, and my new Icom IC-705 on it’s maiden voyage. Mike K5XU has been blind since birth and is a 50 year amateur licensee and career broadcaster. (Learn more about Mike’s amazing life and career on the ICQ Podast episode 299 here.) He is the CW op for our team. Thomas N5WDG is a wide area network engineer covering several states for AT&T and is one of my engineering Elmers. Mike N5DU has become our FT8 leader. I can neither deny or confirm that he uses the G90 bedside at night to work other countries via FT8. Mike is the State of MS RACES Officer for the Emergency Management Agency and practicing attorney in Jackson MS.
Given the tall pines in this small park area, we used three EFHW antennas I had built in the past month. I ran across an eBay vendor, John KG6ZBN (seller name eddieson), who was selling both 1:9 and 1:49 UnUns for $10-$12. I could not source the parts for that! Since George at Packtenna was out of stock on his EFHW antennas, I just bought several of John KG6ZBN’s EFHW UnUns as shown below for the 1:49 model. I did follow George’s build specs using the #26 Silky Wire from The Wireman. This wire for low power is a wonder. One of the EFHW’s is shown below with inexpensive plastic kite winders to manage the wire. I use S-hooks to link the kite winder in the air to very small paracord once I have the latter over a tree branch or something. A sweep of one of the 1:49 EFHW is shown using a RigExpert Stick analyzer and Antscope illustrates the resulting SWR dips in the HF bands. The bluetooth-connected “blue stick” was connected at the SO-239 connector of the EFHW before hoisting up in the air so the coax is not in the system on these measurements. I was very pleased with these results.
So how did our first POTA activation go in an otherwise ideal Saturday for doing some amateur radio? Not bad. Not bad at all. I posted our activation on both the POTA.app and on the Parks on the Air Slack Channel. Some tweeted that they tried to reach me on SSB while I was using the IC-705 at 10 watts. Most were a no-go except the one SSB contact from Arizona giving us a “true” 599 report. We had 59 contacts in all, but dropped one due to a busted call sign. The map below shows the range by mode. SSB is green, CW is red, and FT8 is yellow.
Mike K5XU’s 30 watts on CW worked very well as he is a master operator in that mode. Catching Alaska and Puerto Rico on 30 watts was not surprising. Mike N5DU’s FT8 power was 10 watts (5 watts for the first two). Working Guatamala and Sardinia on 10 watts using an EFHW was nice. N5DU added his DX Engineering Bandpass Filter box which significantly reduced interference between his FT8 rig and my SSB rig sitting just a few feet apart. My poor SSB showing, except for the one QRP contact out to AZ in their State QSO Party, was not to be unexpected. Nonetheless, as my friends Scott K0MD and Thomas K4SWL told me, my first deployment of the IC-705 was better than imagined in terms of how the rig operates and the features it contains. I did connect it the day before to my amateur radio laptop (Thinkpad 420s) on my patio via USB and tested a 1:9 EFHW strung head-high between two bushes in my garden. This is the very first rig that has connected immediately to WSJTX after two settings: rig selection of the 705 in the software and pressing the on-screen menu button for FT8 Preset on the 705. I immediately began receiving and decoding FT8 signals! One contact convinced me that I had that mode in the bag on the 705. Well done, Icom!
Lunch was served at my house a couple of miles away after our noon shutdown. Fried catfish from nearby Cock of the Walk restaurant, hush puppies, corn bread, fried onion rings and pickles were the main course. To finish off our meal, apple pie or brownie a la mode with chocolate peanut clusters were served. We dined on our screened porch with a breeze off of the Barnett Reservoir flowing through the solar shades. While not the healthiest diet, and one we do not eat often, a good time practicing this aspect of our hobby was had by all. We plan to continue POTA activation’s, and perhaps the one SOTA entity in the State, in the future. Having a group of ham radio friends like this makes the hobby most pleasurable. Now, I need to get that log submitted to my POTA manager!