Staff Report

For some fairgoers the entertainment, fair food, and live entertainment make the Santa Barbara County Fair memorable, but for others it’s all about the rides. The Santa Barbara County Fair runs July 11-15, and this year Helm and Sons Amusements will bring a number of new rides, including some that have a special connection to Santa Barbara County.

Several rides from Santa Ynez Valley’s Neverland Ranch—the property once owned by pop singer Michael Jackson, who died June 25, 2009—will once again entertain audiences. According to Helm and Sons Amusements vice president, Corey Oakley, there will be three rides from Neverland: the Zipper, the Lolli Swing, and the Spyder.

The rides have a long history with Helm and Sons. It started when the grandfather of current owner Davy Helm owned a ride called The Wave Swinger. Michael Jackson attended an event where the ride appeared and fell in love with it, Oakley said. He asked the elder Helm if he could buy it. Instead Jackson was offered a lease.

After that arrangement, Helm and Sons had responsibility for procuring and upkeep of rides at Neverland under a non-disclosure agreement that expired upon Jackson’s passing.

The amusement operator owns six rides from Neverland and Oakley said a lot of people enjoy the significance of enjoying a ride that once was a part of the Neverland Ranch.

In all, Helm and Sons will have 32 rides and attractions at the Santa Barbara County Fair.

New rides include a kiddie roller coaster called the Little Dipper; a kiddie ride called the Krazy Train, made of fire truck, semis replicas; and the Himalaya, which Oakely called a super spectacular ride.

Oakley said that Helm and Sons really wants to focus on atmosphere. “We’re trying to be a little different and try to create a theme park atmosphere,” he said. That even extends to having continuity in the music played at each ride.

There will be an old school Band Organ in the kids’ area for ambience. In the main carnival area, you can also catch a performance by the Royal Circus, a family of five performers who present a circus-type show with a high wire act, comedy, and magic. The show lasts 20-25 minutes and is free.

They’ll also add to that ambience with various passive experiences that invite visitors to sit back and enjoy. An example of that includes the Dancing Waters attraction, something he likens to a miniature version of the dancing fountains at The Bellagio in Las Vegas. Visitors can sit back and watch the water dance to music.

Oakley said that Helm and Sons tries to incorporate changes like these each year to keep things fresh and make sure visitors enjoy their time at the Fair. “We always need to stay a step ahead,” Oakley said.

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