Since the first half of the 19th century, trains have been a theme in both traditional and popular music. Train songs and “Train Medley” were composed as they share experiences and fascination for the large transportation vehicle. All throughout the years, trains have been a subject in all major musical genres. They have been mention in folk, blues, country, rock ‘n roll, jazz, world, classical and avant-garde.
Lecil Travis Martin carried the stage name Boxcar, Willie, studied and worked to fly an airplane. Nonetheless, his interest in trains did not seem to leave him. In the country music industry, he became one of the best train song performers. Born on September 1, 1931, in Sterrett, Texas, Lecil was said to be very near a railroad. He was a son of a railroad worker, and his father also played with a fiddle. Originally, the name “Boxcar Willie” was a character in a ballad Martin wrote. Later on, he adopted it as his own stage name.
By the sound of the whistle of a train, Boxcar learned how to identify their differences. Interestingly, he learned to imitate them. The trademark “train whistle” that Boxcar Willie delighted his audiences around the world with was not an electronic special effect. The sound came from his throat—somewhere deep down his soul.
Although the reputation of railroads in the US has weakened in recent decades, it remains a part of songs. And by that, Lecil turned a lifelong fascination with trains, train songs and “old-time hobo” music style into a career. Dressed in hobo clothes, masked with a dirty face, accessorized by a floppy hat, Boxcar built an image on stage and TV. He was a country traditionalist whose trademark was an imitation of a train whistle. Thus, he made a name from “Train Medley” as one of his most popular songs.
As an entertainer and performer, in 1986, he settled in Branson. He became a mainstay there, performing all year round at the Boxcar Willie Theater—playing six shows a day.
As an honor, one of his hobo outfits now hangs in the Country Music Hall of Fame.