When it came to working with Detroit Diesel engines, Tom Kaufmann reckons his lifelong mate Craig Woodcroft was untouchable.
There was nothing the venerable owner of south Brisbane workshop DDEC Detroit Specialists didn’t know about them, or how to fix.
His phone would ring hot, seven days a week, with cries for help from those wanting to tap into Woodcroft’s uncanny affinity with the engines. No problem was too big or too small, and Woodcroft always had the answers.
Kaufmann said Woodcroft’s gift was evident from the moment their paths crossed as youngsters – Woodcroft in the final throws of his apprenticeship at CDR, Kaufmann just out of his – until illness forced the workshop whiz to reluctantly hang up his tools just over a year ago.
After a long and brave battle with pancreatic cancer, Woodcroft passed away on January 15, aged just 60.
“There will never be another one like him – he was an absolute freak when it came to Detroit engines,” recalled Kaufmann fondly.
“There must have been hundreds of thousands of part numbers and he’d just walk up to the parts counter and rattle off the numbers, saying ‘I need this and this’. He just had a photographic memory for them.
“He absolutely dominated everything with those engines – it was just amazing.”
Kaufmann recalls the day when the first Detroit Series 60 came out in the 1980s with what for many was a new confounding array of electronics.
“Craig just picked it up instantly. Then Kenworth got him to go to Melbourne to work the wiring harnesses on it, and build up all the wiring looms to run all the electronic engines that no one’s seen before.
“Just whatever there was to do with the Detroit engine, he was in front and on top of the whole scene.”
Kaufmann, who later in life lived behind Woodcroft’s workshop in Coopers Plains, said Woodcroft’s other great love was hot rods and rebuilding classic cars.
His many achievements included working on The Mean Machine, a celebrated Detroit-powered Mack drag truck of the late 70s and early 80s, and rebuilding a 57 Chevy and 47 Chevy tow truck from scratch, the latter repurposed as the workshop ute.
Perhaps his proudest moment in that arena, however, came when he worked his magic on the family-owned EH Holden Premier that had fallen into disrepair.
“Craig got hold of it, stripped it down like he did with the 57 Chevy; down to nothing, and brought it back to factory finish, right down to the last master cylinder cap,” recalled Kaufmann.
“He put in a show and won, and the day they handed the trophy over he got his father to come up on the stage and said: ‘Dad it’s yours’. The number plate said POPS EH.”
“He just gave, and gave, and gave the whole time that bloke…he honestly did.”
Woodcroft is survived by wife Yvette, and sons Cameron and Brendan.
A former apprentice with his dad, Brendan took over the keys to the shop earlier last year, rebranding as DDEC Australia to put his own stamp on the operation, but very mindful of the goodwill and industry-leading reputation he’s inherited in the process.
“Craig’s legacy he’s left behind is just awesome – everyone knows who he is – and I wasn’t ready to let that go,” said Brendan proudly.