Boxcar Willie

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Boxcar Willie
Birth nameLecil Travis Martin
Also known asBoxcar Willie
Born(1931-09-01)September 1, 1931
Ovilla, Texas, U.S.
DiedApril 12, 1999(1999-04-12) (aged 67)
Branson, Missouri, U.S.
GenresCountry, gospel
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, train whistle
Military career
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service1949–1976
RankMaster sergeant E7[1]
Battles/warsKorean War

Lecil Travis Martin (September 1, 1931 – April 12, 1999), whose stage name was Boxcar Willie, was an American country music singer-songwriter, who sang in the "old-time hobo" music style, complete with dirty face, overalls, and a floppy hat.[2] "Boxcar Willie" was originally a character in a ballad he wrote, but he later adopted it as his own stage name.[3] His early musical career was parallel to service as an enlisted United States Air Force Flight Engineer.


According to his birth record, Martin was born in Ovilla, Texas to Birdie and Edna Mae Martin. He joined the United States Air Force in May 1949, and served as a flight engineer on the B-29 Super Fortress during the Korean War in the early 1950s. In Lincoln, Nebraska, Martin was once sitting at a railroad crossing and a fellow that closely resembled his chief boom operator, Willie Wilson, passed by sitting in a boxcar. He said, "There goes Willie." He pulled over and wrote a song entitled "Boxcar Willie".[citation needed] It eventually stuck and became Martin's nickname. In 1962, Martin met his future wife, Lloene, in Boise, Idaho. They later had four children.

In San Jose, California, Martin attended a talent show as "Boxcar Willie" and performed under that nickname for the first time. He won first place, a $150 prize and a nickname that he forever went by. That was his part-time vocation, however, for he was still in the Air Force and had been flying daily missions. In the early 1970s while assigned to the 136th Air Refueling Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, Martin served as a Flight Engineer aboard the Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter and participated in Operation Creek Party. This operation provided critical in-flight refueling services for fighter aircraft assigned to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe for 10 consecutive years. In 1976, Martin retired from the Air Force and became a full-time performer. One of his first national appearances was a win on Chuck Barris' The Gong Show. In the late 70's Martin would travel to Grand Prairie, Texas where he would purchase hundreds of 8-track tapes pre-recorded with his music to later sell in various places. After He received a contract with other recording studios he discontinued his dealings with Cleo McDonald. He entered American mainstream pop culture consciousness due to a series of television commercials for record compilations of artists who were obscure in the United States, yet had large international followings, such as Slim Whitman and Gheorghe Zamfir. He went on to become a star in country music. In 1981, Martin achieved a professional landmark by being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.[4] His was more than a US success too, with his 1980 album King of the Road giving him his greatest chart success by reaching No. 5 in the UK Albums Chart.[5] Traveling around the world with his band, was his steadfast and trusty steel guitar player Chubby Howard, radio show host and musician for many years.

In 1985, Martin moved to Branson, Missouri and purchased a theater on Highway 76, or 76 Country Music Boulevard. In addition to the Boxcar Willie Theater, he opened a museum and eventually had two motels, both bearing his name. Boxcar Willie was one of the first big stars to open a show in Branson, paving the way for the other nationally known names that followed.[6] He performed at his theater in Branson until his death.

On February 23, 1992, Boxcar Willie was featured on the Season 2 premier of Tracks Ahead in which he performed with his band at the Boxcar Willie Theater.


Martin was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, and died on April 12, 1999, in Branson, Missouri at the age of 67. He was buried at Ozarks Memorial Park in Branson.[7] Major league baseball umpire "Cowboy" Joe West was among his pallbearers.


After a major reconstruction project, the overpass at Interstate 35E and Farm to Market Road 664 in Red Oak, Texas (also known as Ovilla Road, approximately four miles east of Ovilla) was renamed Boxcar Willie Memorial Overpass. A small park, two blocks from the National Mall, near the L'Enfant Plaza station in Washington, D.C. was renamed Boxcar Willie Park. Boxcar Willie's legacy also includes being named "America's Favorite Hobo".



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US Country AUS
1976 Boxcar Willie Column One
1978 Daddy Was A Railroad Man
1979 Boxcar Willie Sings Hank Williams And Jimmie Rodgers
1980 Take Me Home
Greatest Hits – Boxcar Willie
1981 King of the Road 54 40 35 Main Street
1982 Last Train to Heaven featuring Lee Gentry 27
Best of Boxcar, Vol. 1 34
1983 ...Not the Man I Used to Be 35
1986 20 All Time Favourites 86 J&B Records
Boxcar Willie Dot Records
1988 Live at Wembley Pickwick Records
Best Loved Favorites Heartland Music
1991 Pure Country Magic
Truck Driving Favorites Madacy Entertainment
1993 Rocky Box: Rockabily (With The Skeletons) K-Tel Records
1994 The Spirit Of America Madacy Entertainment
1996 Achy Breaky Heart
2004 American Songs – The Very Best of Johnny Cash & Boxcar Willie Retro Records


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country CAN Country
1980 "Train Medley" 95 Take Me Home
1982 "Bad News" 36 15 Last Train to Heaven
"We Made Memories" (w/ Penny DeHaven) 77
"Last Train to Heaven" 80
"Keep on Rollin' Down the Line" 70
1983 "Country Music Nightmare" 76 Best of Boxcar, Vol. 1
"Train Medley" (re-release) 61
"The Man I Used to Be" 44 ...Not the Man I Used to Be
1984 "Not on the Bottom Yet" 87
"Luther" 69


  1. ^ "Martin, Lecil Travis, MSgt". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  2. ^ Malone, Bill C. Country music, U.S.A., University of Texas Press, 2002, p. 277.
  3. ^ Mazor, Barry. Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 291
  4. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 171. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  5. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 74. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  6. ^ "BoxCar Willie" Archived November 7, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, Salon obituary, April 14, 1999.
  7. ^ Jasinski, Laurie E. (2012). Handbook of Texas Music. Texas State Historical Assn. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-87611-297-7.
  8. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 44. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.

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