Bob Chaparro sent a comment with this remark:
Here's the common from Doug Hoslert:
Following up was this comment from Tony Wagner:
Its my understanding that reefers moved on mileage rates, not per diem, so when they were empty there was no rush to get them back to where they had come from.
First, Tony is right, reefers operated for many years on a mileage basis, loaded or empty. That's the reason operators like PFE or FGEX or SFRD could not have cared less whether there were return loads or not -- to them, it was the exact same revenue loaded or empty.
Second, Doug mentions something very important: PFE had agents all over the east who kept track of empty cars (these were normal junction reports), and would "remind" yardmasters and car distributors to get those cars moving west to where they could be reloaded.
It's essential to remember that the primary job of an operator like PFE was to supply empty cars to be loaded, not to generate revenue (to the parent roads) with return loads, and certainly not to sit around in eastern yards. The message was, move them west! soonest!
Home territory would have been the rails of SP, UP or WP.