About 6 miles north of Fremont on Highway 77 is a meticulously-kept dairy farm where the house, barn, silos and other outbuildings are brick and tile. Many folks refer to it as the Penneys farm.
Not so, however, there is a JCPenney connection.
One of “our boys” had the farm built more than 90 years ago. Carl Malmsten, born in Oakland to Swedish immigrants Lars and Mary Malmsten, had become co-owner of the Fremont JCPenney store in 1920. Carl’s career with James Cash Penney began in 1909 in Penney’s first store, the Golden Rule Store, in Kemmerer, Wyo. Through the years, Carl had managed a number of the company stores—before and after Penneys was incorporated—and also had accumulated a great deal of company stock.
When he was about 50 years old, he had the desire to raise purebred Guernsey cattle and farm, much as he had seen James C. Penney do. It’s been said he cashed in some of his stock to build the most modern dairy and farming operation that money could buy. His pedigreed stock came from J.C. Penney’s herd.
While living in Fremont, Carl purchased about 360 acres near the former Cornhusker Highway (Hwy. 77 today) and another 225 acres of bottom land, which was to grow its share of feed for the cattle and hogs. Oh, yes, he also raised prize Spotted Poland China hogs. The farming operation was fitted with the best of tractors, a four-row corn planter and cultivator, and with 40 milk cows a manure spreader was in constant use. Four mules were kept for emergencies.
Mark and Karen Jackson, John and Patty Wilson and Burt County Museum curator Bonnie Newell “walked the walk” and toured this wonderful farm on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The owners, Duane and Judy McKenzie, kindly gave us a tour of the farm buildings, the interiors of which are pretty much in their original state. The 40-cow dairy barn is most fascinating, with wrought iron stanchions, wood brick flooring, and the most modern watering, feeding and cleaning mechanisms of 1928. The electrical system was probably beyond the most vivid imagination of the era, but fuse boxes are now empty and there are no lights and working machinery. The hay mow of the same barn is constructed of a “round barn” frame, with layers of 1x6’s that were bent in forms to build the roof. The hay trolley lies on the hay floor along with its counterparts, a couple of hay slings made of wood and chains.
The brick home, the last to be built, was erected in 1929. A violent hail storm in recent years tore up every roof on the place, thus every building has new shingles.
The history of the Malmsten “boys”—Carl and brothers Roland and Victor who were born in Burt County, and brother Roy, who was born in a sod house near Gothenburg, is on exhibit at the Burt County Museum, now through Sept. 14. See how “Burt County Played a Role in the Development and Expansion of the JCPenney Company.”
You are invited to hear the personal memoirs written by Carl and Roy Malmsten of their early days with James C. Penney. It will be a special program at the annual meeting at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the East House on the museum campus.
Burt County Museum is located at 319 No. 13th St. (north Hwy. 75) in Tekamah. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.