Boxcar Willie

 Boxcar Willie’s legacy also includes being named “America’s Favorite Hobo”.


Boxcar Willie
Birth nameLecil Travis Martin
Also known asBoxcar Willie
BornSeptember 1, 1931
Ovilla, Texas, U.S.
DiedApril 12, 1999 (aged 67)
Branson, Missouri, U.S.
GenresCountry, gospel
InstrumentsVocals, 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 and enlisted United States Air Force Flight Engineer, 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]


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 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”.[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 the 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. He later became a Flight Engineer on Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter aircraft in the 136th Air Refueling Wing in the Texas Air National Guard, including air refueling flights around the U.S. and overseas in Germany. In the early 1970s, he was in the Texas Air National Guard as a Flight Engineer on KC-97L tanker aircraft, participating in Operation Creek Party by flying over the Atlantic to Germany many times to do air-to-air refueling there. He was in the 136th Air Refueling Wing, 181st Air Refueling Squadron.

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 BarrisThe 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.[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 he died.

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”.



YearAlbumChart PositionsLabel
US CountryAUS
1976Boxcar WillieColumn One
1978Daddy Was A Railroad Man
1979Boxcar Willie Sings Hank Williams And Jimmie Rodgers
1980Take Me Home
Greatest Hits – Boxcar Willie
1981King of the Road544035Main Street
1982Last Train to Heaven featuring Lee Gentry27
Best of Boxcar, Vol. 134
1983…Not the Man I Used to Be35
198620 All Time Favourites86J&B Records
Boxcar WillieDot Records
1988Live at WembleyPickwick Records
Best Loved FavoritesHeartland Music
1991Pure Country Magic
Truck Driving FavoritesMadacy Entertainment
1993Rocky Box: Rockabily (With The Skeletons)K-Tel Records
1994The Spirit Of AmericaMadacy Entertainment
1996Achy Breaky Heart
2004American Songs – The Very Best of Johnny Cash & Boxcar WillieRetro Records


YearSingleChart PositionsAlbum
US CountryCAN Country
1980“Train Medley”95Take Me Home
1982“Bad News”3615Last 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”76Best 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


  1. 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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