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Helm and Sons Amusement Company Reopens Playland Amusement Park
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Playland Amusement Park in Fresno, Calif., is making a big comeback, thanks to the intervention of Helm and Sons Amusement Company.

Playland reopened on June 16th, with refurbished and new rides added, as well as concessions, games, and some new décor. Some VIPs already had an early look at the revamped park June 1st, as company owner Davey Helm used the occasion to offer 50 donation and sponsorship opportunities including fun options like a donation to name a horse on the park's Grand Carousel.

With the Colton, Calif. based Helm and Sons Amusement Company already keeping busy offering rides and concessions for carnivals and events throughout the west, Helm's agreement to revitalize Playland came as somewhat of a surprise.

The Fresno Rotary Club, which owns both Playland and Storyland, reached out to Helm through social media. Playland had closed following the 2020 COVID-19 shuttering of amusement parks in California and had not reopened. But it wasn't the first time the park had closed: it was also shuttered due to lack of funds in 2015 but reopened in 2016. Still, business was hardly booming prior to the pandemic.

But the rotary believed the long-standing attraction, which opened in 1955 just ahead of Disneyland, still had legs in the community, if the right person would run the park. The club asked Helm if he would be that person, operating the park under Rotary's supervision.

Helm, however, wanted to have more independence in running the park and making it his own, and asked the Rotary to relinquish their control. When an agreement was reached and paperwork finally completed, Helm began to work on Playland last fall. He brought in his sister-in-law, Candace Cuisinier as general manager, and brought other family members into the park's team as well.

Cuisinier says safety came first for everyone involved in the reopening and brought out inspectors to be absolutely certain every ride was up to code, testing the rides and running them several times a week as they prepared to reopen the park.

The first step was assessing the rides already at the park, 12 in all, including the Grand Carousel, a Jolly Caterpillar, a helicopter ride from Allan Herschell, a teacup ride from Zamperla, a Chance C.P. Huntington train, miniature cars, and a family coaster from Molina and Sons.

Each of these rides were thoroughly inspected, disassembled, and reassembled to be in top operating condition for this summer's opening. Four other rides that were at the park were decommissioned.

Helm also brought in six new rides to the park, including an Chance Gondolla Wheel, and a 110-foot slide. In all, he plans to bring 12 rides from Helm and Sons to the park. Rides will be switched in and out periodically to keep attractions looking fresh, as the park is open all year.

Helm says if visitors loved the park in the past, they simply have to “come see what we've done now.” His intent was to keep the park's nostalgic atmosphere going strong while offering a new and vibrant look.

Once the rides were established for this season, Helm's team worked on building and maintenance. They constructed a new 18-hole mini golf with a course designed to appeal to both kids and adults. An existing splash pad was updated. Eight midway games were brought into the park as well, along with food concessions, which Helm's wife Colleen will be managing. She brings an experienced flair: she manages all food concessions on the company's carnival route as well.

Fortuitously, during the pandemic, Helm and his wife also became owners in a prop company, which has allowed them to place some pretty cool looking photos ops throughout Playland and create a more dynamic atmosphere, too. They've installed props such as a 65-foot Eiffel Tower.

Also added are a souvenir booth, offering convenience items along with souvenirs, and outside vendors including face-painting and a Build-a-Bear-like vendor.

The overall look of the newly refreshed Playland is one of a “carnival and park,” Helm says. Seasonal events will also be a part of the mix, with real snow planned for the holiday season and real pumpkins for carving come Halloween.

The park even has a new logo, combining one for the park with the logo that Helm and Sons uses on his carnival routes.

As for its Fresno location, Playland is in a prime spot near the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and its sister park Storyland. Storyland is geared toward small children, with fairytale attractions featuring talking boxes that relate popular tales such as Alice in Wonderland and Humpty Dumpty, and a children's theater that runs performances including music, dancing, and storytelling.

Playland is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, with Monday and Tuesday reserved for private parties and company events. Admission, which includes rides, will be $25 for adults, $20 for kids 7 and under, with the park's iconic train ride offered at an extra cost of $3. The train runs between both Playland and Storyland next door.

Onsite purchases at the park will be available using Magic Money's electronic payments, with guests able to reload and add money conveniently, both at the park and at home by using the Magic Money app.

Helm says that costs were kept low to encourage attendance by all families. With four kids of his own, he says he knows how expensive family entertainment can be right now, and he did not want to price families in the area out of enjoying the park.

All this and a traveling carnival, too. Helm and Sons maintains a quiver of over 65 rides on its West Coast route that includes the Santa Barbara Fair, the Oregon State Fair, the Antelope Valley Fair and the feast of San Gennaro in Henderson, Nev. among its many stops this year.

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