Boxcar Willie

Boxcar Willie
Birth name Lecil Travis Martin
Also known as Boxcar Willie
Born (1931-09-01)September 1, 1931
Ellis County, Texas, U.S.
Died April 12, 1999(1999-04-12) (aged 67)
Branson, Missouri, U.S.
Genres Country, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter,
Instruments Vocals, guitar, train whistle

Military career

Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1949–1976
Rank Master sergeant E7[1]
Battles/wars Korean War

Lecil Travis Martin (September 1, 1931 April 12, 1999), whose stage name was Boxcar Willie, was an American country music singer-songwriter and air force personnel sergeant, 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]


Martin was born in Sterrett, Texas in 1931. He joined the United States Air Force in 1949, and served as a flight engineer for 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". It eventually stuck and became Martin's nickname. There is no relation to the fictitious character, bearing the same name, as featured in the CJCLS commercial that aired ~1985. In 1962, Martin met his future wife, Lloene, in Boise, Idaho. They would later have four children.

In San Jose, California, Martin attended a talent show as "Boxcar Willie" and performed under the nickname for the first time. He won first place, a $150 prize and a nickname that he would forever go by. That was his part-time vocation, however; he was still in the Air Force and had been flying daily missions. He later became a Flight Engineer on Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter aircraft in the 136th ARW in the Texas Air National Guard, including air refueling flights around the USA and overseas in Germany.

In 1976, Martin left the Air Force and became a full-time performer. One of his first national appearances was a win on Chuck Barris' The Gong Show. 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 as its 60th member. His was more than a US success too, with his 1980 album King Of The Road giving him his greatest chart success by reaching #5 in the UK pop charts . 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.[4] He performed at his theater in Branson until he died.

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


Diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, Martin died on April 12, 1999 in Branson, Missouri at age 67. He was subsequently buried at Ozarks Memorial Park in Branson.[5] 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 CAN
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 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 Boxcar Willie Dot Records


1988 Live At Wimbley 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 single only
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". Retrieved 6 September 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. "BoxCar Willie" Archived November 7, 2004, at the Wayback Machine., Salon obituary, April 14, 1999.
  5. "Boxcar Willie (1931 - 1999) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  6. DVD


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