I came across this in an aviation group somewhere, previously shared on Facebook by Thornton “TD” Barnes, who worked at the facility for a period of time. He’s also got a website with his bio and pictures from his career with the Army, NASA, Atomic projects and business ventures in oil.
More unclassified frivolity that never made the history books. The CIA never officially named its flight-test facility at Groom Lake. The facility’s first users chose the name Watertown (CIA Director Helm’s hometown) during the U-2 days and Paradise Ranch (chosen by Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson) for the A-12 plane that followed. The CIA’s Development Projects Division identified the facility as Station D and the three overseas U-2 stations locations that it supported as Foreign Field Base A, B, and C.
The facility acquired the unofficial Area 51 name in 1959 with the annexation of an Atomic Energy Commission grid identified as Area 51. Initially, dependent travel was not allowed for those chosen to work at the facility. The CIA envisioned its cadre living at the facility and going into Las Vegas maybe four times a year. (The CIA gave in when the wives threw a fit about having to stay home while the husband was assigned to a duty station in Las Vegas.)
While no one lived full time at the facility, we, both cadre and the commuters did live there Monday morning to Friday evening. The CIA’s cadre could live in Las Vegas, but all others had to live out of state and commute. The CIA, accommodated those staying over at Area 51 with a small BX stocked with snacks and various personal hygiene items. Other amenities included a swimming pool, exercise room, softball diamond, 3-hole putting green, pool room, bowling alley, and a three-stool bar called “Sam’s Place,” named after our CIA commander, Dick Sampson.
The Mercury base camp for the Atomic Energy Commission’s atomic bomb testing provided other accommodations such as laundry, check cashing, church, and a barbershop. We don’t talk much about what we did at Area 51 for entertainment after work while staying there Monday through Friday. The Air Force guys played poker at House Six, watched movies, or flew model airplanes. Some played softball, their team named the “51s.” Us CIA Special Project nerds were more creative. With the A-12 Project OXCART ending and the Soviet MiGs arriving, our work became our entertainment.
We read Buck Rogers comics. (kidding) After dinner, we often drifted back to our work areas to “play with our toys,” radar and other systems, especially Russian radar systems arriving from the Syrian desert with Israeli bullet holes from the Six-Day War or perhaps a MiG plane flown to Israel by a defector. We took our work very seriously, but when bored, nothing was more fun than a group of engineers and techs spending a couple of hours studying another guy’s radar schematics to determine where to hook up a Klaxon air horn, and then waiting until the unsuspecting operator entered his van, closed the door, dimmed the lights, and flipped a switch to turn on his system (and, of course, the loud, undulating, wailing alarm horn hidden inside his van.)