A Story About the Amusement Park at Neverland Ranch
BY Gene Carl
Three rides from the King of Pop’s private amusement park will be featured at this year’s California Mid-Winter Fair. The three attractions include The Wave Swinger, The Spider and The Zipper. The rides are being provided by Helm & Sons Amusements which purchased the rides from Jackson last year. All of the rides are “kiddie rides” making them ideal for children. All of the rides were either sold or leased to Michael Jackson for his “Neverland” Santa Barbara County ranch. The singer bought the property from real estate developer William Bone in 1987 for $19,500,000. The amusement rides, petting zoo and other family-oriented attractions were later added by Jackson. Jackson also spent several million dollars out of his own pocket to pave roads and parking lots so that chartered buses could safely make it to the ranch. These buses brought in thousands of children, many with life-threatening diseases such as various forms of cancer, who used the facility for free. According to, Corey Oakley, the manager, for Helm & Sons Amusements. While Dave and Debbie Helm own the various rides at this year’s fair, their dad is the one who knew Michael Jackson for many years and was a consultant and assisted in the creation of Neverland. Helm & Sons has always had a confidentiality agreement with Michael Jackson and never exploited and took advantage to use any marketing to talk about their rides which were used by Michael Jackson. Upon his death and just prior to that the dismantling of the amusement park at “Neverland,” many carnival companies became in possession of equipment purchased through auctions and used that to say they had a Michael Jackson ride. Upon his death, Helm & Sons felt comfortable being able to say this is a part of history because this was a ride once owned, once ridden and once enjoyed by Michael Jackson. This gave people a sense of history, to be able to touch the rides and take a picture in front of the various rides. While Helm & Sons, have been involved with “Neverland,” Michael Jackson Productions, and Michael Jackson Enterprises, for many years, this is the first time that they have actually talked about it. The three rides from “Neverland” at this year’s Mid-Winter Fair include the Wave Swinger which was custom-made in Germany for Debbie Helm’s father who was a carnival owner. This ride was leased to Michael Jackson and operated at “Neverland” for about eleven years. It was brought back into the Helm family and is now on the midway at the fair. It’s a swing ride and oscillates and turns and holds about 48 people. The other ride is called The Spider but is also called The Black Widow. It was recently refurbished. It’s an older style ride that has a lot of spinning action and is themed around the black widow spider. It’s a beautifully lit ride that is kind of old-school but still gives you the same thrills. This ride was at “Neverland” for many years. It was one of the first rides Michael purchased. There was beautiful landscape around it and it was one of the rides Michael enjoyed quite a bit. The other ride is The Zipper. This was the original Zipper that was at “Neverland” for a number of years. That’s pretty much the story of the three rides that were at “Neverland.” They are all now at the California Mid-Winter Fair and have signage and people with cameras can take pictures in front of them.
According to Corey Oakley, all of the people involved with Helm & Sons have had a chance to be at “Neverland” Ranch, at some point or another. Most people have heard about it but haven’t been there. One thing interesting at “Neverland” is that there was a full-scale locomotive that was there on regular train tracks that would take you from The Treehouse and the movie-screening area to the amusement park and then to the Zoo and kind of make a loop. The train has been sold as well as the train station that was beautifully decorated. Michael Jackson would go out to the park if he had a party or family over. Helms & Sons Manager Corey Oakley said, “I had the occasion to see him one time by himself on the Wave Swinger. It was kind of a surreal moment. He was out there enjoying himself on the ride just as a kid would.” A substantial part of the flat area at “Neverland” was covered with asphalt and was devoted to bus parking. When Michael wasn’t there, which was quite often, schools from Los Angeles and throughout Southern California would bus people in and the kids would get the opportunity to ride all the rides at the amusement park. There were always from 12 to 17 rides at “Neverland” and the kids really enjoyed the atmosphere there. It was a beautifully landscaped, manicured park with lots of flowers. Millions of dollars was spent on the look and the feel of it with rides kind of sitting in the middle of it. People relate to Michael Jackson in different ways. Some people relate to his music, some to his troubles, and others like his dancing, etc. Everyone has heard about the amusement park that Michael had at “Neverland.” Now you can be a part of that by actually riding on one of his rides, probably riding in the same seat that he used.
According to Corey Oakley there were times when Helm & Sons were called by Michael Jackson to augment some equipment and add some extra pieces when he was going to have a big birthday party for his nephews or a party for the record company and Helm & Sons would bring in four, five or six other pieces and set them up temporarily for the weekend or for two weeks and then they would pull them out. These were rides he did not have such as a new super ride. Maybe he didn’t want to buy it so he would rent it from time to time. This is something Helm & Sons did six to eight times a year. In regards to “Neverland,” it’s in an interesting place. It’s in a valley. When you go in, you can’t see it anywhere except from above. It’s not a big flat lot like you would see at the Mid-Winter Fair grounds or Disneyland. There are hills and small mountains. Some areas were cut out and a pad was poured and a ride was set on top of that area. The bumper cars were in a house, a bumper car building. You went inside and rode the bumper cars. That building was about 70 feet by 150 feet. You went inside and stepped down to the floor for the bumper cars. That was a permanent structure. All the rides were looked at with the idea, “What’s the best setting for this?” As far as size, at “Neverland” where the rides were was about half the size of the carnival lot at the California Mid-Winter Fair. Then you went down into another valley and there was the Zoo and you went over here and there was the Train Station and there was the house. You could see the amusement park from inside of Michael Jackson’s house. “Neverland” was a place for kids to come and feel super-special. Everyone got popcorn and cotton candy and other food items even though Michael Jackson was not there 90% of the time. He opened the park up and shared it.