Watertown to their new home at Laughlin, Texas. Watertown became a virtual ghost town. The base was apparently in caretaker status with a site manager, security, and minimal complement of personnel present.
An atomic test code-named WILSON deposited fallout on Watertown. The AEC measured radiation exposure inside the evacuated buildings and vehicles at the base to study the ability of various materials to shield against fallout. In effect, Watertown served as a laboratory to determine the shielding qualities of typical building materials that might be found in any average American small town.
The 37-kiloton PRISCILLA shot was detonated at Frenchman Flat.
HOOD, the sixth nuclear shot of Operation Plumbbob, caused substantial damage to the Watertown airbase. The device was lofted by balloon to a height of 1,500 feet over Yucca Flat, about 14 miles southwest of Watertown. On 5 July 1957, HOOD exploded with a yield of 74 kilotons. HOOD's shockwave shattered windows on two buildings at Watertown, and broke a ventilator panel on one of the dormitories.
A maintenance building on the west side of the base had its west and east doors buckled, and the south door of the supply warehouse west of the hangars was also buckled.
July 1957 A civilian pilot was detained when he made an emergency landing at the Watertown airstrip. Edward K. Current Jr., a Douglas Aircraft Company employee, had been on a cross country training flight when he became lost, ran low on fuel, and decided to land at Groom Lake. He was held overnight and questioned.
Nevada Test Organization (NTO) security officials reported the incident to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which administered the air closure over the Test Site. The following day, the NTO Office of Test Information issued a press release to the news media, describing the incident. The statement noted that the "Watertown landing strip is in the Groom lake area at the northeast corner of the Nevada Test Site."
August 1957 Operation Plumbbob nuclear testing continued. Five additional safety experiments and 18 more full-scale detonations were conducted. Several shots dropped significant fallout on Watertown.
They included DIABLO, DOPPLER, SMOKY, and WHITNEY. SMOKY had a yield of 44 kilotons. It was fired on top of a 700-foot tower in Area 8, about 14 miles southwest of Groom Lake. The mushroom cloud was extremely dirty, and spread radioactive debris over the Groom Lake area.
June 1958 An area comprised of 38,400 acres of land surrounding the Watertown base was officially withdrawn from public access under Public Land Order 1662. This rectangular addition to the Nevada Test Site was designated "Area 51."
July 1959 USAF personnel from Edwards AFB embarked on a two-day survey trip in an L-28 to investigate potential emergency landing sites for the X-15 rocket plane. The L-28 received clearance to land on Groom Lake, the fifth stop on the trip. The crew tested the hardness of the lakebed surface by dropping a 10lb. steel ball from a height of six feet and measuring the diameter of the resulting imprint.