The coming of the railroad changed the way America ate and drank. The advent of cheap, fast, refrigerated transport enabled local brewers, growers and food manufacturers to become players on a regional or national scale. From the late 1800s into the 1930s, many of those businesses leased refrigerator cars and turned them into rolling billboards for their products.
Unlike the massive fleets owned by railroads or large shippers like Pacific Fruit Express, each billboard reefer leased by the smaller shippers was an individually hand-painted piece of graphic art. As proud bearers of company advertising, billboard reefers tended to be washed frequently and kept in good repair, even during the Depression, when nearly everything on rails looked dirty and downtrodden.
In mid-1934, however, the Interstate Commerce Commission mandated the phasing out of billboard reefers by January 1937. What doomed the billboard cars was truth in labeling. Depending on shipping needs, billboard cars often carried loads for customers other than the company named on the car sides. Shippers were not happy when an empty car arrived at their door bearing a large ad for someone else’s product — they felt as if their freight bill was in part paying for another company’s advertising. In the plainer schemes of railroads and shippers like PFE, however, woodsided reefers soldiered on as late as the 1960s.