Sunday, March 13, 2011

FEUD FOR BRIDGES


BEHIND THESE MOUNTAINS VOL. I

(insert photo)
Caption: Noxon ferry towing another ferry. High water often broke ferries from their moorings, sending them swiftly downstream. Courtesy Edna Evans Cummings collection.

1917 was a year of momentous conflicts around Noxon. A 'Montana war' heated up along the Clark's Fork when Noxon squared off against Dixon, a hamlet in the eastern part of Sanders County. Delegations from both towns harangued the County Commissioners in their efforts to get bridges across Clark's Fork.

SANDERS COUNTY INDEPENDENT LEDGER
March 8, 1917

"If the highway commission gives its consent, and if the estimates made by an engineer are approximately correct, Dixon will have its long-desired bridge this summer.
"The five county commissioners in session Tuesday assured a committee of Dixon citizens presenting a petition."
Residents asked for the construction of a 700 ft. bridge on wooden pilings to replace the ferryboat serving the people on the other side of the river with varying dependability; it was inoperable due to ice and high water six months of the year.
The Dixon men were delighted with the unanimous decision of the board to build the bridge if those obstacles could be overcome. They went home, confident in the commissioners favorable action.
As the newspaper reported in another article, the commissioners' action  didn't sit well with everyone attending the meeting, especially those from Maynard's constituency in the west end of the large county.

SANDERS COUNTY INDEPENDENT LEDGER
March 8, 1917 
"In the event that the bridge demanded by the state commission exceeds in cost $10,000 it is probable that the voters of the county will have an opportunity to pass upon a bond issue for the bridge there and one at Noxon as well.
"The Noxon people need a bridge badly, but as Commissioner Maynard stated, the Noxon situation is not as acute as is the one at Dixon, and a plan to provide a bridge for the east end citizens this year and one for Noxon people next year would probably be satisfactory.
"The board was agreed in its belief that both communities need bridges and that both of them should be built very soon. But it is generally admitted that the Noxon bridge could not be furnished for a sum within the $10,000 limit, and if the Dixon project is submitted to a vote the Noxon question will doubtless be presented at the same time."
Noxonites at the meeting requested a road change at the mouth of Bull River. The county surveyor, John H. Brauer, was ordered to make estimates, surveys, and to report back to the elected officials.1.

Following an initial regrouping early in March, a Noxon delegation approached the commissioners with another request to make a road. County road engineer, John Brauer, after looking over the Dixon bridge prospect said,
"It will be impossible to build even a wooden bridge within the $10,000 limit. The main spans could not be built for this sum and it will be necessary to build approaches as long or longer than the main spans. He estimates that the cost of a wooden bridge will be more than double the limit."
Brauer went to Helena to discuss the matter with the state highway commission.2.

J. W. Hammons, who had homesteaded on the north side of the river adjoining C. R. Weare's homestead, expressed the following views on the subject of bridges in a letter to the newspaper, which the editor published on March 22, 1917.
Hammon's letter said in part, "... as regards to bonding the country for the proposed bridges, to the extent that the bonded indebtedness will be a burden to future generations, I wish to say that if Sanders county is to stand still and not progress, if we are not to prosper, if our natural resources are not to be developed, if we are to remain in the same old rut until we are called to that better land, if we cannot deliver unto the future generation a better county, in a much higher state of development and very much increased valuation to what it is at the present time, then I am not in favor of the improvement. But I do not believe that this is to be the case.
"I believe that Sanders County will continue to advance as other portions of the great state in which we live. Like the growth of Chicago, it is one of the marvels of the age. No other state in the entire union has been settled and developed in a similar time to the extent that Montana has in the past eight years, and this development is going on today.
"Immigration is headed toward Montana. Will we get our pro rata? Can we do something to attract the eyes of the man with money, or shall we sit idly by and watch the hand of immigration write the name of our county on the blacklist? ..."

He went on to advocate for not wooden bridges, costly to maintain and potential eyesores, but for steel bridges, which would be a sound investment.
"Being a citizen of Noxon vicinity, I am familiar with the grief and hardships one must endure who is compelled to continually use a ferry boat. Our children, like the children of Dixon, must cross the Clarks Fork River twice each day in order to reach the public school. Many times they arrive at the landing to find, although chilled thru, other teams ahead of them, so they must wait their turn, to say nothing of the many times the ferry is out of commission, or perhaps sunk near the shore thru some unavoidable accident during the night.
"... there are few towns in Sanders county, if any, that ship from their own vicinities the amount of freight that Noxon does, and 75 per cent of this comes across the river."
Hammons concluded his letter, "And then when we chance to soar aloft and with listening ear to the voice on the breeze, we can hear it say, "Sanders county, Montana, with its beautiful summers and mild winters, its gurgling streams of pure mountain water, its natural advantages for dairying and stock raising, with its splendid schools, churches, roads and bridges, its beautiful homes and sweet fields of clover, and with all of its wonderful natural resources, is good enough for me."
 ###
In the same issue as Hammon's letter, the editor informed readers that Sanders County made application too late to share in the federal government largess: If the bridge proposals were on the route of 'through tonnage' they could have qualified under the government matching funds road act.
"...The county commissioners passed a resolution just before the first of January in which provision was made for a bond issue of $20,000 to meet the county's obligation if the federal money was forthcoming.
"All applications for the government money had to be filed before the first of the year and our application was received barely within the time limit. Other applications from over the state had preceded ours and were given favorable attention first.
"It is certain, therefore, that this county will not share in the money this year..."3.
The editor also explained how other considerations impinged upon the board's freedom to apply for money under the two government aid programs.
"At the same time that the board agreed upon a $20,000 appropriation for use with the forest service money it also planned a $10,000 appropriation to insure a share in the government's general road aid appropriation.
"Later, however, it was found that the restrictions put upon the use of this money are so elaborate that it will be out of the question for this county to meet the requirements and there is, therefore, no present indication that Sanders will ever receive a part of the general road aid money, unless future appropriations should be made available without such exacting requirements..."4.
The county carried a bonding indebtedness limit of $332,236.70. Bonds already issued $231,062.06, leaving a margin of $101,174.64. Wanting to reserve $20,000 for possible matching funds for federal government money next year reduced the amount to $81,174.64. It seemed unwise to many to deplete this below a prudent $50,000 minimum, thus not leaving enough for two bridges.

Noxonites reverted to the adage that 'might makes right.' They regrouped by the time-proven method of forming a community action group: The Community Club.

Harry Tallmadge, circa 1918-19. Courtesy Harry
and Sarah Tallmadge collection.
###

Car travel in the valley was replacing horses, and that also added fuel to feud between Noxon and Dixon. Enthusiasm surged in Harry Talmadge as he leaned down and grasp the crank to start his1914 Model T Ford. Two rapid turns fired up the motor. He quickly stored the crank, jumped into the driver's seat. He began navigating the wagon road through the Bull River valley on his way to Noxon, where he anticipated showing off the car he'd just bought from a forest ranger in Troy.

It was a long hard journey. Several times Harry crammed his felt hat down tighter, jumped out, grabbed his axe from the T's toolbox and swamped out the wagon road, leaving stumps that were low enough that his Model-T could straddled.

Flushed with triumph, he boarded the Noxon ferry before dusk and crossed the Clark's Fork River, and putted up the wagon road into Noxon. Loggers and miners from Jim Finnigan's Cottage Rooms, Gordon's Hotel and Baxter's Hotel flocked around the progressive young man to admire his sputtering horseless carriage.

Sarah Tallmadge and their baby girl, circa 1918-19.
Courtesy Sarah and Harry Tallmadge collection.
The editor continued to fill the pages of the Sanders County Independent Ledger with bridge news.
April 5, 1917, "Will Sanders County build a bridge at Noxon this year? Will it build one at Dixon? Will it build none at all? All three of these questions have been troubling the board of county commissioners and have been worrying the people at the two points in the county most interested. Monday the job of settling them was undertaken by the commissioners in joint session with a delegation from Noxon and a delegation from Dixon. As a result of the conference the whole matter will be submitted to the voters of the county at a special bond election sometime this summer."
 He said of the daylong, noisy meeting that ended with a solution ripe with the potential for skullduggery,
"It may be that neither bridge will be built, in any event only one bridge can be built because the instructions will call for a vote on but one measure. If a bridge is built at Noxon this year, it is highly probably that a bridge will be built at Dixon within a year or two, and vice versa."
Within two weeks, school professor Chas. H. Smith mailed his thoughts on the matter. In his April 26, 1917 letter to the editor, the respected Noxonite voiced the sentiments held by residents of the west end.
April 26, 1917 "Letter to the Editor", from Chas. H. Smith. "We, as residents of a county rich in natural resources, and laden with promise of future greatness along agricultural lines, are desirous of ushering in that golden period of prosperity with all possible speed.
"Sanders County will become the great factor which she is destined to be in the political and commercial world only when her citizens take advantage of and profit from the abundance of agricultural wealth which at present lies dormant for lack of incentive.
"We need an influx of population; the grim-visaged, bread-earning class which is willing to toil and endure, in order to clear up and cultivate this wonderful soil, which in point of productiveness cannot be surpassed in this fertile Northwest.
"Across the river and to the left and right, there lie 19,000 fertile acres of stump land which is hindered from development by lack of a suitable crossing at Noxon. If this land could be improved, the benefits accruing to Sanders county would be enormous and everlasting; our population would have increased, our taxes have lessened and our agricultural products would grace the markets of the world ..."
###

At Noxon's behest, the county surveyor gathered material to report to the county commissioners on the cost of the proposed Noxon bridge.5.

As winter took its annual toll on the ferry, the women in Noxon busied themselves doing what they believed necessary to their survival: they held a basket social and dance at Peek's hall to raise money for its repair. No sooner was the money raised than unusually warm weather struck.

SANDERS COUNTY INDEPENDENT LEDGER
May 17, 1917
"The chief concern of many dwellers throughout the main valley of Sanders county just now ... is not what the outcome of America's entrance into the great war will be, but what the Clarks Fork river is going to do. From present indications and actions there are broad grounds for worry.
"The river has been steadily rising during the past week and is still on the rapid upward trend. From a normal flow of 10,000 feet per second at Thompson Falls, it went to 37,700 feet".
Within the following week the river made an additional 40,000-foot advance, to 77,300 feet per second. Farmers, railroad employees and road workers also watched the situation closely, and followed news reports of conditions up and down the river, 
"The crest of high water does not come with the flow from the numerous small creeks thuout (sic) the valley but is the result of the big influx of water from the Flathead and Missoula River. The Clarks Fork is the watershed for an enormous tract of country and when the territory of the Flathead, Missoula, Jocko and tributary rivers lets loose its snow all at the same time, flood is certain," the Sanders County Independent Ledger's editor reported.
"The ferry at Noxon is temporarily out of commission on account of the flood. Foot passengers are taken across, but the water is too high to risk heavier traffic. The cable is being tightened this week to pull it above danger from floating trees.."
Cooling weather slowed snowmelt slowing the runoff sufficiently to avoid another 1894 flood level, and the weekly newspaper's editor also spotlighted Dixonites who cried, "BONDS FOR THE TWO BRIDGES OR WAIT."6.

By June, inconvenience threatened to become jeopardy for those on the north side of the river because snowmelt runoff remained high, and roiling debris-filled water made water transportation extremely hazardous.
The editor reported, "The Noxon ferry has been unable to accommodate any but foot passengers for more than a month and if the water goes much higher, service will be abandoned altogether."7.
When finally the river peaked, at 105,700 second feet, a collective sigh rose while determination to get a bridge hardened.

Joe Collogan, who lived twenty miles up Bull River, decided he'd had enough of struggling to make a go of it. Taking his daughter, Clara, he moved to Sandpoint. Half of 1917 had passed with no solution on the bridge problem.

Joe Hammons, Cliff Weare and John McKay were working hard to get a bridge at Noxon, and also to promote their political viewpoints that workmen needed to rise up against their oppressors.8.

But wanting and getting were still two different things, as the weekly newspaper noted on June 7, 1917:
"A bridge at Noxon and a bridge at Dixon would cost Sanders county approximately $107,000 according to figures submitted to the county commissioners yesterday by County Surveyor J. H. Brauer with the approval of the state highway commission."
The Noxon bridge would be all steel and concrete and cost $52,000; Dixon's bridge, wood, concrete and steel, and at 1910 feet long, the longest bridge in the county -- a third longer than the bridge at Plains.

While the commissioners couldn't order the bridges, ten days later they agreed to allow $300-$400 of work to minimize some of the worst grades on Tuscor Hill, one of the most hazardous stretches of road on the transcontinental route.9.

With characteristic caution, the Board of County Commissioners concluded in September that three conditions for building bridges at Noxon and Dixon were not favorable for several reasons. First, material prices were too high. Second, steel manufacturers refused to guarantee delivery until the close of the war. Third, the State Board of Equalization failed to make any increase in the valuation of the railroads, and instead made a slight decrease, which did not improve the county's bonded indebtedness capacity. So the bridges were delayed again.

The 7th Annual Sanders County Fair, held in October, was scarcely over when the settlers met to attack the thorny bridge problem again.10. On October 25, the editor of the weekly newspaper in Sanders County wrote,
"Noxon residents are not going to be satisfied to admit their inability to secure a bridge - at least not until the people of the county are given a chance to decide the matter. Such was the unanimous decision of about forty members of the (Noxon) Community Club at a meeting held Saturday evening at which the proposition was discussed at length. In effect it was decided to follow up the efforts of the past six months with more vigorous efforts to bring the matter of issuing bonds for their bridge to a vote.
Then the newspaper article gets to the crux of the matter. The residents of Sanders County really needed  this bridge, and the whole region was under hardship without it. The article continues:

"Under the present conditions it is not thought that a vote for bonds sufficient to build bridges both at Noxon and Dixon could possibly carry. It was therefore decided to select a committee to confer with the Dixon people in an effort to arrive at some kind of an agreement whereby the latter will be willing to withdraw their claims for the present and support the Noxon proposition. C. F. (sic) Weare, J. W. Hammons and F. B. Lyon were chosen to act on this committee.
"If some kind of an agreement can be reached, the county commissioners will again be asked to call an election to settle the issue in time so that, if successful, construction can be carried out next year. What the attitude of the commissioners will be is not known, but it is thought likely that they will be willing to proceed with one bridge under those conditions.
"It is pointed out that the ferry service during the past season, although greatly improved, has been wholly inadequate to handle the volume of traffic. Many instances are told of teams with loads having to wait for two or three hours before being able to get across the river, and the inconvenience resulting is becoming very irksome to those who have to depend upon this service as a means for going from one side to the other."
The commissioners also dealt with other matters that day. Among them was a resolution requesting the Northern Pacific (RR) to place warning bells at two dangerous railroad crossings, one at Noxon and one further west, towards Heron. John F. McKay was also called upon and gave the commissioners "a short talk on the subject of Liberty Bonds."
###

Throughout 1917, the pressure for extending roads and building bridges mounted. The County Commissioners were forced to look to the federal government for funds to meet their constituents' demands and also to assess carefully the means to secure the funds.

Toward this aim, routing of a road to connect with Idaho came under many influences, including the newspaper editor's opinion. November 8, 1917, the editor presented the following viewpoint,
"... The water level route possible through the Clark's Fork valley is especially pleasing to the government and will doubtless receive the most careful consideration, as it offers the most logical road through western Montana, on account of the grade and the length of time it is possible to keep it open (in winter)..."
Nevertheless, Hammons did not let readers get distracted or shunted aside from the bridge issues. He penned his own lengthy report of recent events, which was published in the December 6, 1917 issue of the Sanders County Independent Ledger in Thompson Falls, Montana as a "Letter To The Editor," by  J. W. Hammons. He wrote,
"Someone in Dixon is evidently trying to create strife between the citizens of that place and the citizens of Noxon. Just what his object is in doing so, the Lord only knows. I cannot believe the good people in that locality will tolerate his views for one moment if they will only appeal to their better judgment.
"According to an article in the Dixon Herald of November 23d, written by this distinguished gentleman, he undertakes to inform the public just how a delegation from Noxon has double-crossed the citizens of that place.
"In this same article you will notice he exonerates Mr. C. R. Weare, a member of that delegation, from any blame or responsibility in the transaction and since there were only two other parties of the above mentioned delegation, Mr. F. B. Lyons and myself, and furthermore since Mr. Lyons did not take an active part at the meeting of the county commissioners referred to in his article, it therefore become(s) necessary for me to explain just why I pursued the course I did and why I violated a solemn treaty, which he says was entered into with the Dixon people.
"If the kind editor will permit me the space in his paper, I will gladly explain the matter to all and especially to the good citizens of Dixon whom I believe should have a right to form an opinion of their own without quite so much of his assistance.
"In the first place, it will be remembered that a delegation from Dixon and also one from Noxon met in Thompson Falls last spring and discussed the bridge question most thoroughly. At the conclusion of this meeting it was agreed by all the members of both delegations to take the matter up with the county commissioners and through the kindness of that Hon. Board a meeting was arranged that very night for our sole benefit.
"For several hours throughout this meeting the commissioners listened with much patience to the many propositions that were put before them, it being conceded by all present that the finances of the county would warrant the building of but one bridge; one bridge, however, could be built. The next important matter to settle was who would get the bridge, Dixon or Noxon.
"At last a happy solution was found and it was unanimously agreed between the commissioners and both delegations that the former would call an election and let the voters of the county decide whether there should be a bridge built and if so designate on their ballots where it should be built. This concluded the meeting for that evening and the best of feeling prevailed, in fact, many of the members of those two delegations drank to each others health that night, although I am almost ashamed to admit it, but really we felt as though we had accomplished something and no matter who got the first bridge, the other one would come soon.
"The election we were waiting so patiently for failed to come; Noxon became suspicious and began to make inquiries into the matter. At first we were inclined to blame the commissioners, but later on discovered it was the Dixon people who had changed their minds and were using all their influence to persuade the commissioners to call the whole bridge matter off. Of all the double-crossing I ever heard of this was the limit.
"For a while everything remained dormant, but as the public was vitally interested it could not remain so long. Mr. H. C. Neffner came to Noxon and claimed that he represented the wishes of the people of Dixon, and while here met several of the citizens. To them he proposed to let Noxon have the first bridge if they could be assured of one in the near future.
"This created considerable interest among our citizens and it was decided to call a meeting of the Noxon Community Club and discuss the matter. This was done and the bridge proposition was thoroughly discussed but on account of there not being a very large attendance at the meeting, it was voted to have another one two weeks from that date for the purpose of selecting delegates to go to Dixon to confer with the people there on the proposition.
"In the meantime, I wrote Mr. Neffner what our intentions were and asked him if he could arrange a meeting. I expected him to be somewhat enthusiastic over the prospects of meeting the Noxon people to discuss a propsition which he had proposed, but in this I was disappointed, he simply wrote me that their Community Club was not very active at the present time, that the bridge proposition was dormant, but he thought they could arrange a meeting any time that we would suggest that if the Noxon people came to Dixon to be sure and look him up.
"Our Community Club met as agreed, with a very large attendance, and in the course of its business selected delegates to go to Dixon as previously agreed. Accordingly we notified Mr.Neffner and asked him to kindly arrange for a meeting.
"As stated before, the delegation consisted C. R. Weare, F. B. Lyons and myself. Well, we arrived in Dixon on scheduled time, but lo! there was no one to meet us at the station. This was somewhat of a surprise but yet we were not discouraged. We proceeded down the street of that beautiful little hamlet properly situated among the sun-kissed hills of western Montana. To our amazement we found the town almost deserted.
"My first impression was that perhaps some citizen had died and that the good people were all out at the cemetery to pay their last respects to the deceased, when all of a sudden I remembered Mr. Neffner said to look him up. Where could he be found? Having also remembered hearing someone say he was in the lumber business, we decided to look up such an establishment and there, sure enough, to our delight we found him all smiles and sunshine. After greetings were exchanged, we inquired what time the meeting was called for and were told that quite a number of the citizens were in town that afternoon, it being Saturday, but that they had all gone home and he didn't think it was possible to get them back for a meeting that afternoon.
"He told us he would run over and call Mr. Campbell and that we could make our wants known to them and as there was to be a basketball game and dance in town that night, they would announce there a meeting to be held the next day at nine o'clock at the Community hall. "The next morning nine o'clock found the little Noxon delegation at the doors of the Community hall, but the doors were locked and so far as I know they are still locked.
"Again we found Mr. Neffner at his office and again he called Mr. Campbell, but as we insisted on having Mr. Williams, the editor of the Dixon Herald, present, I do not know whether Mr. Neffner phoned to an officer to bring him in or not, but anyway he was brought in. This, with the exception of one other party whose name I cannot recall, was the extent of the parties we met with in Dixon.
"We discovered while in conversation with the above named gentlemen that Dixon would consent to nothing but two bridges, at the same time, this we knew was impossible at the present time. The Noxon delegation proposed to flip a coin and see which community should take their proposition up with the commissioners first, the losing community to support the other. Dixon said no.
"Then we offered to step aside and let them take their proposition up with the commissioners first and if the commissioners would grant an election for the Dixon bridge, Noxon would pledge itself to support it, but again Dixon said no. Then we asked them what they would do if we could get the commissioners to take up our proposition. Mr. Neffner said he himself would support it but would not vouch for anyone else in Dixon.
"We then accused them of trying to ride to victory on the shoulders of Noxon. They frankly admitted this was the case. They told us they had made inquiries of business men in Thompson Falls and elsewhere and that these men promptly told them they would support the Noxon proposition.
"They told us that neither Plains, Perma, nor any of the other towns along the line want them to have a bridge and in order to get one they must get it when Noxon gets hers or else after Noxon got a bridge the people would say to H--- with Dixon. May God Almighty have mercy on a man who can think of no better argument for his cause.
"You people who live up around Dixon come out of it. Just because you live on the Reservation don't act like you were born there and had never been any place else. We want to be your friends and we are going to be if you will let us, and we will meet you like men; we will not hide out when you come to Noxon.
"At the conclusion of our little meeting at Dixon we suggested that Dixon make an effort to send a representative body to Noxon before the next commissioners meeting with the hopes of coming to some agreement. This suggestion, remember, was made by the Noxon boys and not by the Dixon people. Hence the stopover at Thompson Falls and our meeting with the commissioners. It was not done with the intention of trying to hurt Dixon, but simply to get action on the bridge proposition.
"Now as regards Mr. C. R. Weare being exonerated from all responsibility, that suits me very nicely. Mr. Weare did not know, neither did I when we stopped at Thompson Falls, that we would meet the commissioners. Had he thought so I am quite sure he would have stopped. Mr. Weare is a close neighbor of mine, and as a neighbor of mine I have great respect for him and his family.
"But just why Mr. Weare wrote to the Dixon people that he had nothing to do with the commissioner, I cannot understand. But of course this is not the only thing that I can't understand of Mr. Weare. He and I differ very much on the war proposition.
"Now in conclusion let me say to the citizens and tax payers of Sanders county that the bridge at Noxon is an absolute necessity, the people all along the line realize this; they want it; so do we, and by your help we are going to get it."
 ###
In January 1918, the commissioners decided not to call any special elections "to take up outstanding road warrants." At the close of the fiscal year, after the 1917 taxes had been collected, there was still about $38,000 outstanding against the road fund, and the bridge fund was practically exhausted.11.

(*Note: Letter from U.S. Dept. of Transportation, March 24, 1972,
"On December 11, 1916, Sanders County asked for Federal and State cooperation in the location, construction and maintenance of a highway between the towns of Plains and Thompson Falls. In 1917 F. A. Silcox, District Forester of Missoula, requested the District Engineer of the Bureau of Public Roads at Denver, CO, to make a preliminary survey of this route from Plains to the Idaho-Montana state line.
"This investigation was made in November 1919 and construction cost based thereon for a road of 16 feet overall width was estimated at $557,000. Montana Federal-aid route 6 extends from Ravalli to the state line [Montana-Idaho border, 71 miles] and was coincident with the Forest Highway. It is still Forest Highway route 6.")
From Weeksville to the  was designated as Forest Highway route No. 6.  (Wikipedia, Forest Highway, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_Highway.)

FOOTNOTES
  1.  Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 8, 1917.
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 22, 1917.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 22, 1917.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 22, 1917.
  5. Sanders County Independent Ledger, April 26, 1917.
  6. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 17, 1917.
  7. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 31, 1917.
  8. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 7, 1917.
  9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 7, 1917.
  10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 6, 1917.
  11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, January 24, 1918.

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