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Gar­sta­ir

On the road along Djúp, about half way between Ísafjörður and Reykjanes, you come across an unusual sight in these parts upon reaching Ögur. Next to a small sheep farm and a parish church, at Garðstaðir, is a different kind of operation, what one might call in Icelandic a bílabondi-that is, a car farm. Covering about 20 acres of pasture beneath a basalt hillside is a collection of approximately 400 cars in various stages of disrepair, disintegration, and decomposition; a few trucks (cement, flatbed, milk, four-by-four); and the occasional carcass of a boat, its entrails laid aside.

The salvage yard is owned by Bjössi, who grew up at Garðstaðir and started the yard with Volkswagon Beetle remains when he was younger. We entered the gate by the no tresspassing sign (an uncommon sight in Iceland), drove up the dirt road towards the old farmhouse, and were greeted by Bjössi, who drove up in one of the several fork lifts he uses for moving the shells of cars around. While he doesn´t usually allow visitors who aren´t there to buy parts or scrap metal to wander around, he knows Gústi and allows us entry to photograph.

The car farm is arranged neatly as far as these places are concerned, more like a lot where the cars are permanently parked. There is a main dirt path that bisects the length of the yard and traveling along this into the heart, there are 10 or so side lanes on the left, about two car widths wide. Along the sides of each are cars interred parallel to one another, about twenty-five or thirty deep. To the right of the main path are mostly parts: a pile of tires here, an area of rusted metal exhaust pipes there, axles, exhausts, and so forth. A row with the remains of old trucks are situated at the far end of the yard-two concrete trucks, a pair of Mercedes flatbeds, a vintage Harvester.

While there is a sense of order to the yard, it is nonetheless a salvage yard. And walking in, with cameras in hand, Gústi and I are both visually overwhelmed: Where does one begin? What do you intend to show with this? Here is an old Beetle, its window smashed, seats torn out, with a rusted exhaust pipe emerging from its body like a jousting stick. There are the remains of an Izuzu Trooper, stacked on top of a station wagon and posed oddly like it might appear in an advertisement. Order only goes so far where scrap is concerned, and this is where Bjössi has run into difficulties.

As you approach Ögur from Ísafjörður, with Ísafjarðardjúp on your left and the snow-covered range of the Snæfjallastrand coast beyond, it is hard to see the scrap yard at Garðstaðir as anything but an eye sore. The neighbors at Ögur have been dismayed by its appearance since the beginning. And several years ago the municipality asked Bjössi to keep the number of vehicles (which at times has numbered as many as 500 to 600) limited. Appearances, however, bely the purpose that the establishment serves.

For his primary income, Bjössi drives trucks between Isafjörður, where he lives, and Hólmavík on the east coast of the Westfjords. The salvage yard provides him with supplemental income from the sale of used parts and scrap. He tells Gústi that local farmers pay him to clean the scrap from their farms-the remains of an old tractor, a rusted tiller that has occupied the corner of a barn for many years-which ultimately can be reused for other purposes. Bjössi provides a key link in the chain between the past life of a car or piece of machinery and its next. While the appearance of the yard is something of an anomaly given the surrounding landscape, it has to be somewhere, and it has to be accessible. So he does his part, and does his best, at keeping the disarray of a car farm under control.

More than a thousand words...

Vefumsjˇn