I have followed directions here twice and still updates to what was on this phone. what am I not doing right? I started with 4.2.1 and ending with same version.
You most likely have a 3G, NOT 3GS, in which cae 4.2.1 is the end of the line for you.
If you DO have a 3GS, are you connecting your phone to iTunes and updating it that way? OTA updating is only available for iOS 5 and above.
Identifying iPhone models
Retrieving data ...