Where Old Sit-Coms Meet Green Ambition

By Scott Harper
(Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot
Saturday, October 11, 2008

ONLEY, Va. -- Maybe it's the homemade windmills spinning on the balcony. Or the golf-cart batteries that power the kitchen. Or maybe it's the purple shag carpeting, the pink shutters, the "Dick Van Dyke Show" furniture, the leopard-print paint on the dining room floor or the gold Rolls Royce in the gravel driveway.

Take your pick. But for plenty of reasons, the advertising slogan declaring Neptune Vacation Suites "the most unique destination on the Eastern Shore!!" might not be hyperbole after all.

Thomas "Spess" Neblett, the owner and creator of this eclectic refuge in the quiet little town of Onley (pop. 450), said his mission is simple:

"For the people who come here, I want them to say 20 years later, 'Hey, remember that fun and kooky place we stayed at on the Eastern Shore? Wasn't that something?' "

He concedes that Neptune is not for everyone. There is no central air conditioning, no hot breakfast buffets, no panoramic views. Plus, Neblett lives downstairs with his dog, a white bichon named Billy.

"It's not some Victorian B&B," he says. "It's quirky, retro -- and that's the point."

Neblett himself is as colorful as his renovated home/inn.

He has been a piano player for Colonial Williamsburg and on cruise ships, restores antique trailer homes and resells them, owns four cars, paints, writes music, dabbles in real estate and makes his own biodiesel fuel (called Gassux) that he sells to local farmers, fishermen and uses himself.

More recently, Neblett has started instructing people -- "for free, really, though I hope they stay a couple nights" -- on how to buy alternative energy sources and install them in their homes and businesses, just as he has done at Neptune.

Here's his homespun recipe for wind turbines, for example:

Buy motors intended for treadmills. Shape blades from PVC pipe. Bolt them to a Swiss-cheesy base bought on the Internet. Wire up the makeshift turbine atop tall steel tubes.

After that, run thin power lines down the tubes to a receiving battery and converter box inside the house. And voila! -- green energy.

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