Category Archives: Bend Texas

Spring with Effie and Gywn

 

Effie Vernon Morris Parks (1900-1966)

I have written about my grandmother, Effie Parks, many times on the blog.  Here is a photograph of her in 1919, near Bend, Texas.  She cooked for chuck wagons on several ranches along with her husband, Jake, who managed cattle on horseback.  During the Great Depression, she sewed for the Works Progress Administration.  In her last years, she worked as a telephone operator in Lometa and Bend, Texas.  She taught me the rudiments of dominoes, playing guitar and hitting a baseball.  She and her husband were married by a parson in an onion field near the Colorado River in central Texas.  In her will, she divided her property among her two children and me.

Gywn Matthews Hollingshead (1920-2003)

This is my mother, Gywn.  This photograph was taken about 1938 when she was living with her mother, Effie, at Bend, Texas.  She married my father, Jack, in 1942, shortly before he volunteered to become a parachutist with the 506th P.I.R.  He was a member of Easy Company, made famous by Stephen Ambrose and Tom Hanks.  Gywn worked for over thirty years for the Southwestern States Telephone Company and General Telephone.  She helped pay for my college education and gave Brenda and me the money for a down payment for a $35,000 house in Mingus, Texas in 2000.  She would come to Mingus and visit us, sitting in the kitchen and looking out on the vineyard I had planted.  She always had a quote of some sort to throw out for the occasion.  One I remember is: Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.  She was Irish mainly, and proud of it.

I have posted these photographs and short commentary of Effie and Gywn because it is April and Spring is upon us and I never can go through this month without thinking of how Effie and Gywn and I traveled the backroads to Bend, Texas, and San Saba to visit relatives at Easter.  The flowers of April and May emitted the most beautiful perfumes imaginable in nature.  They talked quietly about plants and cattle and loved ones that we saw and loved ones that had departed.  I sat in the back seat of the car and listened to their talk and inhaled the scent of bluebonnets and paintbrushes all around.

Today, Brenda and I can travel the same road to Bend, Texas, and flowers spring up again.  We can go down that road and crisscross the same roads I traveled as a boy with Effie and Gywn.

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Rough Creek drums

Rough Creek on the Parks Place, San Saba County, Texas, looking northeast, ca. 1970 (J. Matthews)

Relying upon memories of childhood can be misleading, even downright wrong in place and time.  As adults when we reflect upon last year’s vacation we may err in detail and conversations we thought we had.  Even so, memories preserve detail that can re-emerge with an almost preternatural force with a bit of reflection and musing, even to the point of re-evoking scents and cachets of the past that transcend the moment.

My mother and grandmother never hosted parties, but they hosted and partook of family celebrations — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays.  And there were funerals, lots of them.  Funerals brought the Parks, McRorey, Morris, Ward, Millican and Ragsdale families together for burying kinfolk and re-establishing contact with distant relatives at Bend Sand, High Valley, Colony and Cherokee cemeteries in central Texas.  When I attended these functions, I had two sets of clothes, one for dressing-up and the other for outdoors.  Following the meal or funeral, I changed quickly into jeans and hiking shoes and explored and played with my cousins.  Having dinner at the Parks Place signified the best of all possible worlds because Rough Creek ran through it.

Rough Creek flowed through my great-grandfather’s place and formed the backdrop, foreground, side-scene and main-event for me.  Even today, still, Rough Creek continues to course through my mind and heart and its memory pacifies my days.  My great-grandfather’s ranch was called the Parks Place.  Not the Parks Ranch, the Parks Place.  Rough Creek cut the Parks Place in two parts, emptying into the Colorado River that bordered the east boundary.  For untold generations, Comanche Indians encamped at the confluence of Rough Creek and the Colorado, only to be driven away in the 1840s with the settlement of the area.  In the field north of the creek, after a hard rain, flint tools lay exposed.  A large midden revealed debris of hundreds of years.

I found stone tools, but my primary focus concerned the creek.  A county road ran through the Parks Place and at the creek, a large concrete slab had been poured, forming a stone-firm foundation for the road and continual pool of fresh water for perch, catfish and minnows.  Blue-colored dragon flies lit on green lily-pads and joined together in reproduction that I never fully figured out as to male and female flies.  Sycamore, cottonwood and pecan trees shaded most of the creek’s bank.  The water temperature was cold and it took a few minutes to become accustomed when as a boy my mother allowed me to swim and wallow with slippery moss on rounded stones.

I hiked up and down both banks of the creek.  When the terrible drought of the 1950s occurred, Rough Creek continued to run.  Neighbors in pickups with forty-five gallon water drums, came to the creek, parked on the slab and filled drums with water.  Their children swam and played in the water while the adults bailed water into the drums with buckets.  The elders were sun-tanned and strong, their hats crusted with dark sweatbands that bespoke toil and care for their cattle and family.  My great-grandfather never closed the road and I never saw the gates closed.  Cattle guards — steel-framed panels set in the ground — allowed trucks and pickups to pass over them unhindered, but kept the cattle in check and within the bounds of the Parks Place.

My great-grandfather gave me a branding iron, an iron with a capital “P” for the Parks Place, when I was a boy.  I have it hanging in the alleyway of my barn and see it everyday when I feed Star, my paint gelding.  I’ve not used it because our brand is a Running M.  I do not think of cattle when I see the the branding iron.  I think of Rough Creek on the Parks Place and I wonder how high the water is at the crossing.  Is it high enough that perch and catfish swim back and forth across the slab?  If another drought comes, will the present owners be patient with the neighbors who come to fill their drums?

In the early 1970s, I took the photograph of Rough Creek that sets the banner and feature photo of this post.  The Parks Place had been sold and passed into other hands.  The road remained open and I stopped at the creek’s edge and took this photograph.  I framed it with the sycamore on the left and the road and concrete slab in the foreground.  Behind the trees, on the upper left-side of the photograph is the grist mill, but you cannot see it clearly.

The photograph verified that my memory remained good and that cool, fresh water flowed over a concrete slab with lily-pads and bull rushes abounding.  After taking the photo, I drove slowly out of the Parks Place and up the road, past the mill and over the cattle guard I had seen when I was young and had most of my life in front of me.

______________________________

Notes:

The intersection of Rough Creek and the road is precisely 31.136°N 98.5468°W, elevation at center: 1,119 feet (341 meters), San Saba Quad map.

I have a true narrative I have written involving a court case between my relatives and the first owner of the Parks Place (not the present owners) after it was sold.  The first post-Parks owner attempted to close the road.  My cousins de-welded the gates, threw them in the pasture and smeared his brand on the portal with cow manure.  The owner sued my cousins in civil court — most upset he was about the cow manure.  My mother and cousins testified that the road running through the Parks Place had always been open for ranchers and their families living in the back country, and that closing the gate impeded the commercial and social intercourse, long-standing in history, of the community.  The owner lost the case, sold out and moved on.  The present owners of the former Parks Place indulge me and my kin when we stop and look at Rough Creek as we go into the back country.  My great-aunt Helen Tom, daughter of my great-grandfather, talks with the present owners about her growing up on the ranch and they allow my aunt to visit and see the place at any time she so desires.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, Recollections 1966-1990, San Saba Texas

Acequia and Rough Creek mill race

Acequia Madre of Santa Fe

Throughout the upper Rio Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human.  For centuries, this region has been homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos.  These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community….Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape.  Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland….

But these systems have also performed other important roles…social, political, and ecological.  As a social institution the acequia systems have preserved the historic settlements and local cultures spanning four major periods….The great majority of acequia villages are unincorporated.  In these instances the acequia institutions have functioned as the only form of local government below the county level.

As biological systems, the acequias have served other important objectives:  soil and water conservation, aquifer recharge, wildlife and plant habitat preservation, and energy conservation.

Jose A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, pp. xvii-xviii (1998).

In 2007, I drove up Santa Fe River canyon from downtown to the iron gates of the reservoir that held water for the town, including the Acequia Madre.  The acequia no longer irrigated fields, but the channel held water for occasional diversions to small plots in the neighborhood.  For a distance of about two miles, I traced the acequia back towards the center of Santa Fe.  All along the way, I saw some neighborhoods had gleaned the acequia while others ignored it.  At the end of my search near the junction of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the acequia held little water, but it was visible and grasses sprouted about the narrow canal.  It appeared ready, at attention really, to carry water again.

* * *

I spoke with a vintner at Dixon, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, who also superintended the annual cleaning of the Dixon acequia.  She told me that local inhabitants still work on keeping their canal clear of brush, even if it does not border their property,  a communal behavior extending back to prehistoric times.

* * *

On my great-grandfather’s ranch in San Saba County, Texas, the local inhabitants of Colony and High Valley constructed a grist mill for grinding grain in the late-nineteenth century.  They dug a mill race or channel to divert the water of Rough Creek to the wheel that powered belts to millstones.  My mother often told me she remembered her father coming out of the mill covered in flour, face smothered and sweaty.  As a boy, when I visited my great-grandfather’s ranch, I followed the channel upstream on Rough Creek to where the water diverted.

Today, the mill still stands sans roof, windows and doors; the mill race is visible, though eroded, and no water flows.  On the second story ledge of the mill, a prickly-pear cactus took root in shallow soil, erupting ten or twelve paddles of cacti clearly visible from the ground, its propulsion coming from the prevailing southwesterly wind from High Valley and warmer climes in Mexico that blew seed upwards onto the old mill’s second story.  To this day, picnics and family reunions congregate about the old mill and under the pecan trees nearby.

Although some acequias have fallen into disrepair and the old mill will no longer grind grain, no lament is necessary because these structures symbolize the communal efforts of people to work with the flow of water.  Acequias can be cleaned out and the mill race can be reconstructed to a higher ground so that its flow can be opened to a newly-planted orchard of plum and peach.  The mill race becomes acequia.

 

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas, Santa Fe

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

Gorman Falls: Texas Rainforest

Gorman Falls near Bend, Texas (Jeff Lynch, Photographer)

Jeff Lynch is producing some of the most stunning photos of Texas landscapes.  This photograph of Gorman Falls, near Bend, Texas, is spectacular.  Please click on the link below for technical information about the photo and his biography.

I have camped many times at Gorman Falls.  I qualified for the First Class rank in the Boy Scouts by hiking from Bend, Texas, to Gorman Falls in the 1950s.  My grandmother hiked with me and pointed out wagon trails and campsites that she had traveled upon and cooked for cowboys, including her husband, J.W. Parks.  When we reached Gorman Falls, she picked watercress from about the stream to relish our lunch.  She lived in Bend, Texas, and worked as a telephone operator at the one-person switchboard.  The switchboard was in the living room where we played dominoes and listened to KWKH Shreveport, Louisiana, for country music and the Louisiana Hayride.

Gorman Falls existed as a respite from the summer heat, a cool habitat for sunburned people that managed cattle on horseback.

Texas Rainforest | Serious Amateur Photography is Jeff Lynch’s blog and website.

On May 10, 2010, the San Saba Commissioner’s Court met and received a report on the Colorado Bend State Park and Gorman Falls. The San Saba News & Star report is found at this link.  Other items included a discussion about the county scales at Hamrick’s Automotive.

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Field Log 4/21/2010 (Scissor-Tails, Gyp Indian Blanket)

North Erath County, Texas, 32.43 lat., -98.36 long. Elev. 1,086 ft.  Turkey Creek Quad.

Sweet Hija has been inseminated at Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery (ESMS) on the Brazos.  She’ll be held for a couple of days, says Dr. Semira Mancill, to check on an edema problem.  Then Sweet Hija can be released to come back for two weeks before her next checkup.  Hija has a paddock and is comfortable at ESMS.  But, she prefers to be back here to gallop full-speed from one end of the pasture to the other.  Last year, I was at the east gate in the pasture and for no apparent reason, she reared up and stood for six seconds on her hind legs, cocked her eye towards me–I was about five feet away–and held my gaze.  Powerful girl!  Then, abruptly, with a snort and a turn, galloped to the other end of the pasture, a quarter-mile away.  Did not slow down until she reached the end of the lane.  Gasp.

Shiney (Shiners Fannin Pepto) is doing well at Jimmie Hardin’s in Aubrey.  He’s slightly off his feed.  The farrier came to trim him yesterday.  Jimmie said that they had worked him out, groomed him and tied him for training purposes and he did just fine.  I worry about the little guy since he is so exuberant and eager to please, it seems.  Am still undecided about whether I will lead him at the sales ring in Shawnee or have someone else lead him.

I put out more corn today near the deer salt lick.  I saw hoof prints of at least one deer.  Track put down after the last rain of 2.0 inches.  I’ve still not sighted deer.

I’ve seen hummingbirds.  (Taosmesa tweets that she has “heard” hummingbirds at her home, but not seen any.)  Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers  (Muscivora forficata) abound about the fields.  From Peterson, they breed here in w. and s. Texas, e. New Mexico, se. Colorado and s. Nebraska.  He writes that their call is a repeated ka-leep with some stuttering.  I concur (course, who be me?) with the ka-leep, although I might add that the refrain-call is like this: keck, keck, …ka-leep. (Peterson mentions the keck.)  I have a rich and full life, and trying to replicate bird calls is good for me.

When I grew up in Brownwood, Texas, in the 1940s and 1950s, I remember the Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers sitting on power lines in front of our home, down towards Fourth Street and Brady Avenue.  The Scissor-Tails had the same refrain-call back then as they do now.  They would fly upwards in an arc when they called and then settle back down on the power line: keck, keck, …ka-leep, arcing, settling.  I can see it now in my mind and hear it, too.

Here on Flying Hat, over in the Pecan Tree Pasture, several Red-Winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) will take up temporary residence sometime in the spring and summer.  I do not shred the tall Johnson grass so that they can perch on the high stems and be spring-tossed by the wind.  That touch of red on their wings is so bright, so colorful.  I’ve not seen them yet, but I will, I know.

Dense Stand of Gyp Indian Blanket, April 21, 2010

There are several stands of this plant, Gyp Indian Blanket (Gaillardia multiceps).  It may also be (I am unsure) a Pincushion Daisy (Gaillardia suavis).  It loses its petals quickly, but the brownish-red center remains.  The bare flower stems stand 18 inches taller or more.  Looks like those science fiction movies with the scout coming into the basement where Grade B movie actors are hiding.

Gyp Indian Blanket Flower Bases, April 21, 2010

This spring I’ve seen more variety of wild flowers than any spring since we moved here in 2003.  A variety of primrose has emerged today down by the barn.

*   *   *

Rural Declamation Interscholastic League State Meet 1938, Gywn Parks, Front Row, First Person, Left to Right

My mother, Gywn, always had plants and birds.  Her backyard looked like a wonderland in the summer and her bird room held finches she had purchased as far away as Australia as well as canaries and types I can’t remember.  She even had a red hen that scratched through the debris on the floor.

In the photograph to the left, she is the first woman on the first row, left to right.  She was representing Bend, Texas, in the state Declamation contest in 1938.  She placed first and received The University Interscholastic League Award.  Gywn wrote letters and sent cards to her friends as a habit pattern throughout her years (1920-2003).  I have many of the letters from her friends.  Careful in her speech and prose, she was my first teacher at home.  She was small, but she was fierce, I have said about her.  The Irish in her would bring her to a quickening: I’ll get me a shallelagh if you don’t settle down, Jackson!

She died seven-years-ago today, April 21, 2003.  Her last words of advice were for me to have good friends and talk to them everyday.  R.I.P., Mom.  I’m taking good care of the land and plants and birds and wildlife:  a steward, like you taught me.  And, I have friends.

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Protected: Beginning: The Bridge Spoke (With Notes)

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Beginning: The Bridge Spoke

Bend, Texas, in the early fifties….

Two miles away from Sand Cemetery, the Colorado River was host mainly to catfish, some fifty pounds in weight, yellow and blue.  A few ducks from time to time browsed along the banks where the current slowed.  I saw catfish, gar, perch, turtle, ducks and heron.  Blue heron rose off the river, awkwardly flapping to gain lift.  You cross your fingers every time they start up as heron may never make the air.  But they do.  They gain ten or fifteen feet, level off and then in slow wing beats glide above the river following its contours like a liquid highway.  They would turn at the bend of the river, nearly out of sight as I stood on the suspension bridge connecting San Saba and Lampasas counties above the Colorado River, watching the blue heron turn a gray color in the distance.

The suspension bridge sagged three feet as cattle trucks crossed, the weight of the trucks pushing a ripple of bridge planks in front of them, like an ocean wave.  I ran to the end of the bridge and slid down the embankment to see trucks pass, the wave rising and falling.  The bridge held strong for passengers, livestock and man, until it was torn down and replaced by a wider, concrete bridge that held no awe, little respect, and absolutely no history.  The old suspension bridge groaned and creaked when cattle trucks shifted gears to speed over the planks.  When trucks first crossed onto the suspension there was thunderclap.  The new bridge did not speak; it said nothing when built; it says nothing now.

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Protected: Beginning: Upkeep Donation

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Beginning: Bend Ford

Jack F. Matthews, Sr., Winter 1941-42, Texas

As posted in “Beginning: Red Ants,” there is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Nations and tribes record their origins and seed their narratives with great events and heroes.  Beginnings do not stop with national revolution or constitutions, but are present in the family, the circle of kin.  Not stopping there, the setting out goes even farther down into each sentient, solitary being.  Corporeal narratives, we each are.

The beginning is that earliest moment of consciousness, not self-consciousness because that comes later under the mesquite tree in Texas when the wind blows (at least for me, it was).  It may be a song, a face, an automobile, truly anything under the sky that sticks first in the mind, imprinting a memory.  At that moment the setting out begins and does not end till death.  It may never be written, never told; but it is embedded in the flesh.

Mother’s setting out, she tells me, was when she and her father, Jake, were crossing the Bend Ford on the Colorado River near her Uncle Nathan’s home on horseback, riding double, when the horse slipped and fell on her.  The river bottom, only one or two feet below the surface at the ford, is solid granite like the face of Round Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas, and mother, Jake, and horse entangled, thrashing in water.  Her leg broke and they sent for Dr. Doss who set the leg as her father fashioned a small crutch for his two-year old to walk.  The river became a constant theme in her life: the flood, the boundary, the swimming.  Gywn crossed the river at Bend Ford many times after the fall, but the accident was her setting out, with horse and water above her and a father to save her.

My cousin and I were sitting on the ground outside the one-room trailer house on Austin Avenue in Brownwood, Texas, looking down at a clock.  The year was either 1943 or 1944.  The bedside clock was a throwaway timepiece, the face removed, the case gone, but the wheels and spring intact.  In our play, the clock had been wound tight, the wing nuts stuck in the ground.  The alarm went off and the clock spun around and around.  My cousin and I gazed as only children can, intently focused on the exposed wheels and clock turning in the dirt.  Wheels clicked within wheels turning.  I looked away from the spinning clock and saw green bamboo stalks beside the trailer.  I looked down, my cousin stared at the spinning clock until it stopped, turned again, then finally stopped.  She looked at me.  We giggled.  My beginning was an old clock stuck in dirt, spinning round.

Two-and-a-half miles away from the spinning clock and trailer house, Camp Bowie trained soldiers for the war.  My father, Jack Matthews, had left the camp, left us, and was jumping out of planes for extra money, urging Gywn to keep flying the Irish green.  He was parachuting with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for Europe and every major combat operation from Normandy to Berchestgarten.  The Band of Brothers, Easy Company.  Since Gywn and Jack had divorced shortly after the war, I knew few details about him.  I found a cache of letters in her things following her death and I did not open them until the summer of 2009.  When I found out he was a foot soldier in Easy Company, I ordered books overnight from Amazon.com and read his story, his name in print.

In Gywn’s cache of correspondence, I read the letters and documents dated until 1946.  There was a story beyond the narrative my mother had told me and its plot lines were different from what I had been told as a boy.  I stopped reading and put the letters back in the Bigso Boxes of Sweden I bought from Container Store to preserve them.  I have put them aside for now because there’s a story to be told.  An old, old story, along the banks of the Colorado River in Texas, before the spinning clock, before my beginning, but in the flesh of my family.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966