Iranian Jewish Culure
The Bus Line No. 8

The Bus Line No. 8

It was the 1940’s C.E., the 1320’s of the Persian Calendar, henceforth P.C. The world burned in the flames of WWII. The shocking consequences of the war, on the one hand, and the advancement of technology in all areas, on the other, marked the thriving 20th century civilization in all its irony, as it marched fast to transform the look of the cities around the world. Tehran, the Capital of Iran, was no exception to the trend.

When it came to renovation and gentrification, the Tehranis drew inspiration particularly from the European architecture. Construction, expanding the roads, and paving the streets, they all assumed vast new dimensions by the day. The latest models of automobiles and large trucks stood out among the carts and droshkies, i.e. the horse-drawn passenger chariots, which bustled around across the face of the city. The increasing urban traffic and the rising need for the out-of-town passenger transportation brought the large new buses into the picture.

The private sector ran buses on several main routes. They charged 1 rial or gheran of the time per passenger for a trip across Tehran. The Bus Line No. 8 was one such passenger line, whose route ran along the Cyrus Street. At their birth around 1939 C.E., 1318 P.C., there were 9 such lines, with no more than 10 buses assigned to a line.

By 1956 C.E., 1335 P.C., the bus lines had risen to 24 in number, with 40 buses assigned to each line. The Line No. 8 ran in part along the Cyrus Street, known today as “Mostafa-Khomeini St.” This street extended south-north, passing across the Oudlajan Neighborhood, a.k.a. the Jewish Ghetto of Tehran, and it marked the eastern aspect of the area with a denser Jewish presence. Beginning at the Masjid Shah Station of the Grand Bazaar, the route passed through the following bus-stops, as they were known at the time: the Cyrus Three-Way, the Daroukhaneh or “Pharmacy”, Tekkyeh, Kalantari or “Sheriff”, Sar-Cheshmeh or “Spring”, Majlis or “Parliament”, Shah-Abad, Mokhberoddoleh, Saadi, Darvazeh Doulat or “The Gate of Doulat”, Shah-Reza, Villa, and the Pahlavi Intersection, ending at the Mojassameh “Statue” Square a.k.a. the 24th of Esfand Square, known today as the “Enghelab ‘Revolution’ Square”. The return route began at the 24th of Esfand Square, followed by the following bus-stops: Shah-Reza, College, Hafez, the Hassan-Abad Square, Toop-khaneh “Artillery” known today as the “Imam Khomeini Square”, and Shamsol-Emareh, ending back at the Masjid Shah Station of the Bazaar.

Ebrahim “Abraham” Setareh-Shenas, also known as Khalil-Khan, was born in 1921 C.E., 1300 P.C. in the city of Kashan to a religious Jewish family. Having graduated from the Ettehad “Alliance” High School of Kashan, the young Ebrahim was sent to Tehran to fulfill the national service. However, a week into the service at the Eshrat-Abad Garrison, the undue mistreatment by his superior made him leave the base and return to Kashan.

Ebrahim’s father A-Yousef, short for “Agha-Yousef”, owned a carpet-weaving workshop located in the central Kashan. As a well-known figure of the industry, he could not hide Ebrahim from the national service agents. Therefore, he was compelled to send his son back to Tehran to work for a merchant friend of his.

Ebrahim Setareh-Shenas was no older than 22, when his father, who had been ill in bed for awhile, passed away, leaving him in charge of the family: his mother, five sisters and one brother. In 1946 C.E., 1325 P.C., Ebrahim Setareh-Shenas decided to walk away from the traditional professions of the Jews of Iran, who had been mostly engaged in trade, and to try his hand in the new career opportunities.

In 1946 C.E., adding a loan to his savings, he afforded to purchase a used 1938 American Chevrolet Bus for 8,000 toumans. The bus was painted in navy-blue at the top, while the lower part of its body and the arches were painted in white. It was rather nice and shipshape. With its 25-passenger capacity, leather seats, internal decorations and shining lights, the interior of the bus had a particularly glittering view at night.

A driver named Esmaeil “Ishmael” Majidi was hired for 20 toumans per day, and an assistant known as pa-rekabi — literally, “one who stood at the entrance step” — named Hassan Shireyi, was hired for a daily wage of 5 dollars to maintain the bus clean. The assistant also had to announce the route loudly at each stop for the benefit of the passengers.

The bus fare was 1 rial or gheran per person, although children under 10 were exempt from the fare. A trusted member of the family was assigned to collect the fare. The buses usually set out to work at 6 in the morning, and they anchored at night, about 9 or 10 in the evening.

Each bus earned about 250 toumans per day. The fuel cost could run about 25 toumans a day, while the maintenance, repairs and other daily expenses could amount to over 100 toumans.

In 1951 C.E., 1330 P.C., the newly married Khalil-Khan purchased another bus, a 1952 model, for 11,000 toumans, before the license fee. Back then, there were two types of licenses, the City License and the “Desert” or Out-of-Town License, and the City License varied in cost depending on the route.

The Bus Lines 8 and 9 were among the best lines, and they could be traded for up to 200 toumans. Before long, a few other Jews and acquaintances, among them Sha’ban Lavian, Hagh-Nazar Isfahani, and more, bought their own buses to join in the business.

In 1959 C.E., the government established the Unified Bus Company, directed by Lieutenant-Colonel Karim-Khan Zand.

Effective immediately, all bus owners with a City License were required to turn their buses over to the government for 10,000 toumans each, payable in equity shares. The signs of the Unified Bus Co. were installed on all buses, and passengers were required to buy tickets from the designated booths at the stations, instead of paying 1 rial in cash. In 1960 C.E., the government removed all of the old city buses from circulation, and it assigned them over to the private companies which transported passengers outside the Capital. The old buses were replaced by the new 1960 models which ran on diesel fuel.
The shareholders and those who worked on the buses could be employed by the Unified Co., as long as they wished to. For a year, Khalil-Khan worked for the Unified Co. as a supplier. But his desire for progress and independence led him toward the more traditional forms of privately-owned business. He bought a shop on the Lalehzar Street, and he opened his own retail-store for miscellaneous luxury goods.

Currently, Ebrahim Khalil Setareh-Shenas enjoys retirement in Los Angeles, California. When among relatives and friends, he remembers those days fondly. He believes that one main factor in the liberating migration of Jews from the Oudlajan Neighborhood to the northern Tehran and its surrounding areas was the emergence of the new means of transportation — and among them, the Buses of the Line No. 8, in particular. 

Ebrahim khalil setareh- shenas died in the winter of 2018, at age of 98,  ( in the month of tevet 5779 of the hebrow calendar ) of natural causes .